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Josh Heupel Lands on Watch List for Major Coaching Award

Josh Heupel
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel at SEC Media Days 2023 in Nashville, TN. Photo via SEC broadcast.

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel is on the watch list for one of the top collegiate coaching awards in the country entering his fourth season on Rocky Top.

According to the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Foundation on Monday, Heupel has been named one of the 21 selections to the watch list for the 2024 Dodd Trophy, “college football’s most coveted national coaching award.”

Heupel is one of six SEC coaches that landed on the watchlist. Coaches in their first season with a program such as Alabama’s Kalen Deboer are not eligible for the award. Here’s a look at all 21 selections:

Jeff Brohm – Louisville Josh Heupel – Tennessee
Mario Cristobal – Miami Brian Kelly – LSU
Ryan Day – Ohio State Lane Kiffin – Ole Miss
Dave Doeren – NC State Lance Leipold – Kansas
Eliah Drinkwitz – Missouri Mike Norvell – Florida State
Kirk Ferentz – Iowa Brent Pry – Virginia Tech
James Franklin – Penn State Lincoln Riley – USC
Marcus Freeman – Notre Dame Steve Sarkisian – Texas
Mike Gundy – Oklahoma State Kirby Smart – Georgia
Chris Klieman – Kansas State Dabo Swinney – Clemson
Kyle Whittingham – Utah 
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When Heupel and his staff arrived at Tennessee prior to the 2021 season, the Vols’ football program was working in disarray in the midst of an NCAA investigation overhead. Despite having a subtraction in scholarships and some hoops to jump through, Heupel steered the Tennessee team back in the right direction. Heupel installed a new, high-tempo offense that had the conference on their heels at times and gave Tennessee a legitimate identity. For fans who had been watching slow, bad football over the previous few seasons, if you were going to still lose a few games, this was a lot more fun way to do it.

After a year that saw Tennessee overcome obstacles to land with a 7-6 final record, Heupel’s team saw a big jump in year two behind veterans such as Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt, and Byron Young. The Vols achieved a 10-2 regular season record and were in the four-team playoff hunt until an injury to Hooker during a pivotal loss to South Carolina in the penultimate game of the season broke up those hopes. Still, though, Tennessee had achieved its first 11-win season since 2001 in Heupel’s second year.

The Vols took a bit of a step back with turnover during the 2023 season but still achieved a 9-4 record with a win over Iowa in the Citrus Bowl to close out the season. Tennessee reached as high as the No. 9 team in the nation and finished at No. 17 in the AP rankings.

In three years at Tennessee, Heupel has a 27-12 record at Tennessee with an average of nine wins per year. Heupel is also 14-10 against SEC teams in that time and 2-1 in bowl games.

There’s a lot of excitement building around Heupel’s fourth team in Knoxville despite the influx of talent to the SEC this summer. The Vols are one of the teams that are on the outside of the expanded playoffs looking in but have several chances to make a mark on the season and reach the final tournament.

Since the Bobby Dodd Award’s inception in 1976, no Tennessee coach has ever won the award. Kansas State’s Bill Synder won the award during Tennessee’s championship season in 1998. The last three winners of the award have been Florida State’s Mike Norvell (2023), Tulane’s Willie Fritz (2022), and Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell (2021).

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