The Athletic released its yearly rankings of college football’s best 25 coaches Thursday morning as Josh Heupel made his debut on the list.
Heupel landed as the nation’s 22nd best coach in the back half of the list. Two years into his Tennessee tenure, Heupel is ranked as the seventh best head coach in the SEC coming in behind Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Brian Kelly, Jimbo Fisher, Mark Stoops and Hugh Freeze.
“He took what was a punch line of a program in the wake of a dumpster fire of a decade and somehow got the Vols to an 11-2 mark in Year 2,” The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman wrote. “That’s quite a feat. At UCF, he was 28-8 after taking over for Scott Frost, though it felt like things were starting to backslide there. In Knoxville, he’s got things going full speed ahead.
The 44-year old South Dakota native has had success against the coaches ranked ahead of him, posting a 1-1 against Saban, 0-2 against Smart, 1-0 against Fisher and 2-0 against Stoops in his Tennessee tenure while he’s yet to face Fisher or Freeze.
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Stoops has had success turning Kentucky into a strong program in his nine years there while Freeze is back in the SEC at Auburn after strong stints at Ole Miss and Liberty.
Immediately above Heupel is Florida State’s Mike Norvell and TCU’s Sonny Dykes. Immediately behind Heupel is Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Illinois’ Bret Bielema.
The Athletic’s rankings definitely take a long term approach to the rankings and Heupel’s tenure at UCF is holding him from being higher on this list. Feldman called it “quite a feat” but what Heupel has done in two years at Tennessee is more than just a great feat, it’s a shocking turnaround.
Heupel is 18-8 in two seasons at Tennessee and is 46-16 in five seasons as a college head coach.