Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel answered questions from the regional media on the SEC Coaches Teleconference Wednesday.
Heupel discussed the energy surrounding Saturday’s game, his assistant coach retention and more.
Here’s everything Josh Heupel said ahead of Saturday’s SEC opener.
Heupel opening statement: Obviously everyone inside of our program is extremely excited about this one. Our fanbase is too. It’s going to be a great day here in Knoxville. We’ll have an opportunity to showcase everything that’s good about UT and this campus and this university with College Gameday being here. I know our fans will pack the area and the game day environment inside Neyland will be as good as any in college football. Our players are looking forward to the challenge. Florida is a very good football team. Athletic on both sides of the football. Strong and physical up front on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Be a great test for us. We’re at about the halfway point of our preparation and it’s been a real good week right now. Our challenge for us is to continue to prepare the right way so we’re ready to go compete as hard as we can on game day.
Question: Has the outside excitement affected your preparation to this point in the week?
Answer: It really hasn’t been that different up until this point. There’s a little bit more media that our players probably had to do on Monday or Tuesday. A couple of things for me. Really the beginning of the week is really our status quo. I think that routine is important and I think it’s important that our team feels our coaching staff is preparing and going through that same type of routine. It’s been a big part of the improvement inside of our program from when we first kicked off at the beginning of last year. Our kids are pretty methodical and prepare the right way. It will be really important for us in the next couple of days to finish that preparation. You get closer to game day and certainly the energy on campus and the amount of people that will be here will be a bunch and I think it’s important that our players enjoy the competitive environment that’s going to be here on game day. In saying that, it’s about our preparation. Our kids have been good up until this point. Looking forward to kick off.
Q: Many of your players have said different thing about just how much this game means. Is this a week where you figure out some differences in personality on your team?
A: I think everyone came to Tennessee to play in these types of games. That’s why you want to be here. That’s why there’s a huge stadium a block away from where I’m sitting right now. We have a passionate fanbase and everyone understands this is a big football game. I say that meaning it’s a traditional rivalry game and one that our fans point to. It’s one that our players care about too. At the same time, just being excited about who you’re playing and the energy on game day isn’t going to help us play the right way. A year ago, this game down there in Gainesville— kind of a turning point for the buy in in some ways, the process for our players. Just how the game unfolded so our older guys who have been here have been in their routine and they’ll be ready to play.
Q: You all have a lot of retention with your coaching staff from last year to this year. How important was that stability and what do you attribute keeping them to?
A: I think the culture inside of the building is a huge part of being able to retain people. An environment where you compete really hard, work really hard. There’s no getting around it in college football but one where you enjoy the people you are working with. That’s from the energy and relationship from the coaches to our community with the wives where they enjoy being with each other, where you’re able to include your family. The success that we have on the field. We’re building something. Our players and their demeanor and the way they carry themselves. The environment and culture are a huge part of being able to retain people. Obviously, we were able to do that for the most part.
We’re going to have staff members that have an opportunity to further their careers and as we continue here you want that for your staff. You just don’t want them to leave for lateral moves and Kodi (Burns) had a chance to fulfill a dream and go be an NFL coach. Kelsey (Pope) was a no brainer for me. Becoming a full time member of our staff with how he communicates, his relationships with the players, his ability to be a great teacher, his ability to recruit and develop relationships. He was the right culture fit and right coach. I think you start to attribute it to all those factors. The last piece for me— and I didn’t realize it until I got here— obviously the facility the resources we have here at UT are unsurpassed but this is a great place to live. It is truly a college city. It’s a great place to live. Everything is orange-and-white and at the same time it’s big enough where there’s unique opportunities to enjoy your time away from the game. But I think all those factors play a part in being able to retain your staff.
Q: The coaches who stayed got raises. How important was it to invest in those coaches?
A: As we’re able to build it and create momentum here, the opportunity to continue to give them opportunities to grow— and certainly the financial side is part of that. Our administration does a good job of realizing the talent we have in the building and we want to continue to retain those guys.
Q: Did you ever play in a College Gameday game while at Oklahoma?
A: My last year there we had gameday at least twice. Maybe another one on top of that during the course of the regular season. To me, it just means you’re playing in big games. I’m not sure you realize it during the course of the week but you kind of felt it on a Friday. The energy was just a little bit heightened around campus as you were driving in and coming in to the building and the amount of people that were in town and certainly on game day you could feel the focus, energy and excitment from your fanbase. Those are great memories for me and my teammates back then. I talked to our players early in the week. You’ve done things to build it where gameday is going to be here obviously and you’re in the center of the college football world for the morning. We’re in a primetime slot for kick off. Enjoy that that’s going to be taking place and for our players, as long as that’s at the end of the week and we’re faced with preparing the right way. I’ve been pretty pleased with the way our kids have been inside of the building. They’ve been focused and they’ve done a great job of preparing.