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Everything Josh Heupel Said One Day Before Citrus Bowl

Photo by Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee football head coach Josh Heupel met with the media alongside Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz in a joint press conference on Sunday morning.

Heupel and Ferentz discussed multiple things, including preparation for the bowl game, the current state of college football, what they would do to change it, and more.

Everything Heupel said on New Year’s Eve morning is below.

Opening Statement

“Good morning, everybody. This has been a great week for our staff, our families and our players. I want to thank Steve Hogan everyone and associated with Florida Citrus Sports. It is a first-class operation. They have done a tremendous job of creating a great experience and taking care of everybody the entire week. It has been fun for myself, my wife and a lot of our staff to be back in the great City of Orlando. A lot of great memories, having spent three years here, and it has been fun to catch up with a lot of familiar faces, those at UCF, but also throughout the entire community. It has been a fun week to kind of go back and get a chance to see a lot of people that have helped me on my journey and been a part of the success that we have had at the previous stop at UCF. Excited about the game tomorrow. This is a big-time college football game, great way to kick off 2024. We recognize Coach Ferentz and his staff and their program, what they have done this year, but during the course of his tenure, as well. They play  extremely tough, smart and physical. Great opponent and looking forward to kicking off.”

On how he’s changed since he left Orlando:

“No matter what role you are in or whatever profession you are in, you continue to learn how to become a better communicator, how to impact the people around you in a positive way. You continue to refine what you are doing inside of your program 365 days out of the year to allow kids to go be their best and create a culture that they enjoy being and love competing in. Just continue to do that. You learn so much. As a leader of the program, you learn so much from the people around you, and in particular student athletes. Those guys have been instrumental in the growth of who we are and what we do.”

On his relationship with former Oklahoma QB coach Chuck Long:

“I learned a lot from Coach Long. He helped refine me fundamentally. Helped me continue to grow in my understanding of the football game. How to lead the people around me. That staff was filled with the Stoops brothers. Jonathan Hayes was there, as well. Those guys are all – have all made such an impact in who I am and what we do inside of our program. You look at the success that we had, that was because of a lot of the things that they learned, while they were at Iowa as players and as coaches. Have good relationships with a lot of those guys where I still talk to them periodically throughout the year.”

On dealing with the craziness of December:

“The calendar in which we operate now it changes the way December and part of January unfolds for you. I think as we continue to move forward in this great game, is something that we have to look at. It is different, because when your regular season ends, you go through the exit interview process. Each individual player is in a different position. For a period of time, there is some uncertainty with a portion of your roster. For us, I think as we finished up signing day, that kind of became, you know, the lead-in to the Bowl game where you felt good about who was there, where they were at, their ability to play in the game, and you know, be a part of your roster.”

More From RTI: WATCH: Tennessee HC Josh Heupel, Iowa HC Kirk Ferentz’s Final Citrus Bowl Preview

On tampering and how much that changes things:

“Yeah, certainly a part of it. Players have so many different people as they are going through their process early as young players, you know, before the recruiting process even starts out from people that are training them to high school coaches to people that they have relationships with, seven-out-of-seven, that type of thing. It’s certainly part of the college land scrape right now. Wish I had a silver bullet to change all that. I do not think I do.”

On the CFB calendar with adding a 12-team playoff next year:

“If you look at the placement of the first round of playoffs, everything that is going on in those first couple weeks of December, how do you add in preparation for a game of that size and magnitude during the course of what is happening. It was not like I was not on the phone or flying somewhere or in somebody’s house or at a school every minute of the day. There is not enough time to
accomplish everything that you needed to at this point in the season or at this point in the calendar, let alone if you are preparing for a game like that. That is where, again, the calendar of how everything unfolds, the game has changed so quickly, so dramatically. I do think it is something that we have to look at.”

On what role Joe Milton III will play on the sideline during the game:

“Joe has done it the right way during the course of his career. You look at how everything has unfolded, he is a guy that chose to stay. Believed in his teammates what we were building, and how his coaching staff and players around him were going to help him grow as a player. Did a lot of really great things during the course of the season. He has been a huge impact on our program for game day on Monday. Be another voice to help Nico as he comes off the sidelines, things that are going on. Being able to help him get ready for the next set and also create positive energy. Besides being the quarterback on the field, throwing the football, making decisions, every other part of his roles that he has had during the course of the year he can still have on the sideline.”

Josh Heupel on returning to Orlando and how he’d evaluate his tenure at Tennessee:

“As far as what we have done at Tennessee, where we started and took that program over at, how we were able to build a culture, re-solidified the locker room, continue to grow, and the success that we have had. We have been disappointed with some of the results this season, obviously. Who we are, what we are about and how we are continue to go grow, what we have been able
to recruit, we are really excited about the future. There are so many people that go into reestablishing the foundational pieces of one of the greatest programs in the history of college football, and we have to continue to grow. We have to go chase championships. I know that is a standard at Tennessee, but excited about the future.

“As far as being back in Orlando, I mentioned at the beginning, it is unlike you to show up late for a press conference. I thought that might get a couple chuckles out of the Orlando crowd (laughter), but maybe not. This is a great city. My family, myself, we absolutely love living here. A lot of our staff at Tennessee was with us here. It has been great to be back in this city. To the administration, Coach Malzahn at UCF, they were great and allowing us to go practice there. Rode in the first day. Rode through campus. Get off the bus, you are sitting right next to the Bounce House. Get a chance to get on the practice field. It was a lot of fun, because there was so many great memories that came back. Got a chance to talk with a lot of people that have been a huge part of my journey and our journey. It has been a great week. We had a night where we had, I don’t know, 25, 30 players that got an opportunity to come by the hotel and hang out it. Was a great night.”

On what he would do if he were CFB commissioner:

“Games always change. I think that is a positive thing. Growth. It has changed so rapidly, so quickly that I do think you have to take — somebody has to take a hard look at how we put all these pieces together and continue to have the greatest game that there is. Do it the right way for everybody involved, and players at the center point of that. To do that, I think you have to have all the players, and I said players; all the decision-makers in the world and somebody has to grab a hold of the reins and take it in the right direction.”

On how the young guys have taken advantage of the opportunity this past week:

“Yeah, our practice and our preparation back home and here has been really good. The Bowl season, and Coach was talking about the changes during the course of his career, too. There are more guys that have opted out. You have guys that have made decisions to go to the NFL. Some have hit the portal. It creates opportunity for guys that maybe have not played a ton on a unit. They have gotten some reps, probably played a lot of special teams. It is an opportunity for the young guys to take ownership and prove that they are ready to go play at a high level. In some ways, those Bowl games are a culmination and a finish to the ’23 season, but they are also the start and kickoff for a lot of those young guys to ’24.”

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