University of Tennessee Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics Danny White introduces the 27th head coach in the history of Tennessee football, Josh Heupel.
Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics Danny White
“I appreciate you guys being here today. I think I’ve been on the job five days and it’s been a whirlwind. I’m proud to be at Tennessee and I’m really excited about today. I want to welcome Josh, and you will meet his wonderful family; Dawn, Hannah and Jace. We’ve rocked their world and I think they’re in the same boat now as my family, a family in transition. Really excited about having you all here as part of the Tennessee family and everything we’re excited about building here moving forward.
“I want to thank President Randy Boyd and Chancellor Donde Plowman for their support throughout this search for the last week. I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity for me, personally, to be here and the future of what we have going for Tennessee Athletics and this entire institution. Our football student-athletes were phenomenal, they were really, really great. We have a special group. I want to thank the leadership committee I met with this past weekend. The insight they gave me as to what’s happening inside our football program was absolutely instrumental to help me identify the right leader that we have here in Josh Heupel of our football program moving forward.
“Had a great meeting with the team this morning. I can tell you they’re excited, ready to get to work and they’re really excited. We had an exhaustive, exhaustive nationwide search. I know that sounds crazy because I’m hiring the guy that I’ve worked with for the last three years. If anything, I was trying not to hire the head coach from UCF and I say that with respect to Tennessee, but I love UCF and I hate the transition that this is causing for the student-athletes down there. That’s the hard part of college athletics, but after going through extensive candidates we left no stone unturned. I’d like to thank the candidates; you’d be amazed if I could tell you, and I won’t, how many candidates we spoke with and there were no leaks until last night. Only two leaks that I’ve been a part of in my career as an AD and both of them happened in the last week. We need to work on that one here and we have to figure that one out. That’ll be one of my top priorities as we go through here. I really wanted the student-athletes to find out first from me and certainly I would want that for any group of student-athletes, but obviously for the student-athletes at UCF it is a shame that it leaked, but we will continue to work on that and tighten some things up. We left no stone unturned. We talked to head coaches, we talked to coordinators, we talked to long-seasoned coaches, talked to young up and coming coaches. Character and integrity were extremely important from the jump. We talked about that last week and will continue to be. I have zero questions about that with this guy. We want to build a program that we can all be proud of. After vetting every single option, we have obviously landed with a familiar face in Josh Heupel. He was our No. 1 option. This job was offered to one person. I know there’s a lot of rhetoric out there to the contrary and that is not true. We made one job offer, we got our No. 1 candidate and I couldn’t be more proud to have Josh as our new head football coach. Josh is in it for the right reasons. He’s student-athlete centered and that was his message to the team this morning. We filmed a video so he was able to talk with his team at UCF in person and we showed the video that he did for our team at Tennessee. He cares about the kids, I’ve seen that for three years. He cares deeply about their development as students, as people, as athletes and they need to know that. Future recruits need to know that and that’s what we are going to be about here at Tennessee in all of our sports.
“From a fan perspective and an AD’s perspective, this is a pretty fun brand of football. This is one of the most innovative minds in all of college football and I’ll talk about some of the statistics that they’ve accomplished. Also, one of, if not the best developer of young quarterbacks in college football. His reputation speaks for itself in what he’s been able to do as an offensive coach and as a developer of young quarterbacks. We want to build the foundation of a program, as I mentioned last week, but we are talking about football here today. We want to compete for Southeastern Conference and for National Championships. I told our student-athletes I wouldn’t share publicly much of what they shared with me about what was happening in our program for a lot of reasons. We had a great, confidential conversation but I think they’ll be okay with me sharing with you that some characteristics they’re looking for in a head coach are a little bit of confidence, a little bit of juice and a little bit of swagger. That’s something that we have in spades and something they’ll continue to have at UCF and in Josh Heupel and the staff he’ll build here and how we carry ourselves as a football program. Kids are excited, it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be exciting and I think that you guys will like the brand of football you see. Just some highlights that you can probably read, but I’ll just touch on a couple highlights. UCF, in the last three years, is the only team in the country to rank among the top-five in total offense for every single year the last three seasons. The only team in the country to average at least 522 yards of total offense in each of the last three seasons. UCF and Alabama are the only two teams to rank among the top-eight in the country in passing in each of the last two seasons. Along with Alabama and USC, the only three teams in the country to average 316 passing yards in the last two seasons. They join Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma as the only four teams in the country to rank among the top-eight in scoring in the last three seasons. And finally, they join Alabama and Clemson as the only teams in the country to average 42 points per game in each of the last three seasons. Pretty good company to be included with from an offensive standpoint. Obviously, there is a lot more to the game than offense and Josh knows that. He is going to build a big-time staff and we are excited about supporting him from this day forward to have a top-notch staff across the board and compete and he can speak way better than I can about overall plans and team success and not just offense.
“I’m hearing a lot of feedback from our fans. They want offense and I don’t know how we can deliver offense more than we just did. We’re going to move the ball and score some points around here and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I’ll share with you that I got that same sentiment from the group of student-athletes I met with and they were pretty jacked up after our meeting this morning. Most importantly, we are about student-athlete success as I talked about last week. The success of the UCF football team under Josh’s leadership was accompanied with unparalleled success in the classroom. The last two semesters the football program had two of the highest GPAs ever, over 3.0 and 60% of the roster right now has a GPA over 3.0 under Josh’s leadership. As I mentioned, he does things the right way, encouraging kids to compete in the classroom, compete on the field and we want to make them the best versions of themselves and they have my commitment across all of our sports that we are going to continue to do that. Without further ado, I’ll turn it over to the guy you want to hear from today and turn it over to your head football coach, Josh Heupel.
Head Football Coach Josh Heupel
“What an awesome day for myself and our family. We’re so appreciative of the warm welcome we’ve received. I’m just excited to be a part of the Vol Nation and the Vol family. I want to thank Chancellor (Donde) Plowman and President (Randy) Boyd for your vision of what you want and foresee in athletics—the importance it has on a college campus and entrusting us to mentoring and teaching these young men the game of life, not just the game of football. To Danny, obviously those same sentiments, but having been around each other for three years, believing in the process we take our kids through and understanding what we’re trying to accomplish on the football field. We want to go and chase championships and we want to be our absolute best. At the same time, we want to develop them in life too. We really appreciate you all entrusting us with the care of this program and these young men and individuals.
“When I was chatting with Chancellor Plowman last night, one of the things that really registered with me and made this job opportunity so exciting was the aligned vision among leadership with everyone sitting here today. We talked about the importance of having a shared common vision, being able to work at our purpose to accomplish those things every single day and everybody pulling the rope in the same direction. When you have that in leadership, that’s going to transcend through your entire campus and hopefully through our entire state here in Tennessee. When you do those things, great things are capable of happening, and obviously, I’m here because we have the opportunity to go chase championships on the football field.
“I also want to take this time to thank my wife Dawn, who’s been my copilot in life. She’s probably piloting most of the time when I’m at the office. Also, my daughter Hannah and my son Jace. They woke up to a changed world today. They were excited—there may have been a few tears at the beginning of the day, but they were excited when they saw the orange T on the plane. They were ready to jump in and get here. Jace is excited. I was texting with Peyton Manning earlier and Jace is counting down the days until he’s able to catch a ball from him on the football field.
“I also want to thank the players and staff at UCF. The last three years have been a tremendous journey and ride. I appreciate them for allowing me as their coach to be a part of their individual journey and to accomplish so many great things. I’m so proud of who and what we were as a program and I’m just excited to see their success this year. There’s great leadership inside the locker room and when you have great leadership from within, all things are possible, and I appreciate each and every one of them.
“Another thing that registered with me on our Zoom call last night was Danny’s conversation with the leadership council on the football team and the things they are focused on accomplishing. That’s why they came here to one of the biggest brands in college football. One of the biggest things they said they wanted inside the locker room was connection. That’s one of the things that’s extremely important to me. It’s been really hard this past year with COVID, but you play this tough, physical and demanding game because of connection. There has to be a sense of belonging and brotherhood that resides in that locker room. To do that you have to spend time with each other and you have to do things outside of the game. That’s one of the things we try to pride ourselves on in our program, here at Tennessee as we move forward. That sense of connection allows you to chase greatness outside of the game. When you are connected you have a chance to love, when you are able to love you are able to sacrifice for your teammates and this game is all about sacrifice. Accountability is also something we talked about. Making sure that we’re being accountable to each other, the program, the process and the people that reside inside of it.
“On the offensive side of the football, Danny mentioned some of the successes we have had as a program at UCF and throughout my tenure. We’re going to play with tempo. We’re going to be the aggressor. We’re going to play with our skill players in space. We’re going to give them an opportunity to push the ball down the field. At the same time, if you watch what we do, we’re extremely balanced in our approach in terms of run and pass. We want to be physical and dominate the line of scrimmage. Those are all things that are going to translate to what we’re doing here in Knoxville. At the same time, that aggressive mentality that we have on the offensive side of the football is going to translate to the defensive side of the football. We’ll be multiple in our fronts. We’re going to have three- and four-man fronts and we’re going to bring pressure. We want to create negative plays. In college football it’s about creating big plays on offense and negative plays on defense and getting people off schedule. If you put those things together, you have a chance to have a really successful game plan and ultimately a successful season. I’m excited about embarking down that road as we get together as a football program after this.
“One thing that is important to the lifeblood of any football program, but to the lifeblood here at Tennessee is recruiting. That’s the great thing here, you have a national name with a national logo that allows you to go coast-to-coast to attract the biggest, the best and the brightest. At the same time, the most important thing we can do is lock down our borders. We have to keep the kids in this state here and that’s for multiple reasons. They’re going to play championship caliber football, they’re going to be developed, they’re going to have an opportunity to move on to the NFL, they’re going to get a great degree and they’re going to be empowered to live inside this state once they’re done with that degree. We have to do that inside of our own borders and that’s going to come from me. A focus on recruiting in-state from me has to transcend through our coaching staff, but it also has to reside inside every Vol fan in the state of Tennessee. I say that meaning that everyone has to bring energy and passion, while sustaining a positive movement through everything we’re doing to create the sustainable change we need to lock down the borders here with our recruits.
“I’m excited about what we’re embarking on. I’m excited to be a part of Vol Nation. I’m excited to do my very best for the state of Tennessee every single day. I promise you that our staff will do the exact same thing and I promise you that we are going to embark on becoming what we’re capable of becoming as a football program day-by-day and chasing and winning championships.”
On how soon he will assemble his coaching staff and if he will consider staff members from UCF:
“We’ll consider staff members from Central Florida. We’ll do that. Also, current members on this staff, we’ll have a conversation with them here, with the members here at Tennessee. It’s important that we put together a staff at the right time and that we get the right people, more than it is simply about the urgency of putting that staff together. But yes, we want to do it in a timely fashion.”
On his message to Tennessee players and if he will recruit any former players from UCF:
“I will not recruit players off of a roster that I was a part of. Don’t believe that’s the right thing to do. To the current members of this football program and this roster: We need to be a family. We need to act like a family. Everybody’s got a different perspective based on their background, of what a family is at times. When you sit in front of your team and there’s 105 guys in front of you, everybody’s got a little bit of a different perspective. But at the end of the day, a family to me is defined [as] when push comes to shove, that family stays together. Let’s stay a family. Let’s trust the people that are in place to help you become what you’re capable of. You chose this university for the right reasons. I’m saying [to the players], you have the chance to be an elite football program. The tradition says that it should be. It’s our job to get it back to that level. You’re going to get an elite education and be in one of the best communities in college football.
“You walk outside (this room) into that stadium … I’ve coached here, and that’s an electric stadium. There’s not a better atmosphere in college football. I cannot wait to walk out to that, post-COVID next fall, and hear Rocky Top being played as we’re running out. That, I just got goosebumps thinking about it. All those things are still here. Trust me, our leadership, who I’m going to bring in, and give us a chance for our family to become connected. Let’s go have fun together. Work hard, but let’s have fun together and compete.”
On the NCAA investigation and its impact on his decision to take the job:
“I had very frank conversation with every person of leadership about what had transpired, what their knowledge is, what they believe is going to transpire as far as any penalty. The reason that I’m standing here today is because I believe in a very, very, very bright future for Tennessee football. I believe that there’s a minor speed bump that we’re going through, but the kids that are in our program right now and the kids that are being recruited are all going to have an opportunity to go play and chase championships.”
On his offensive philosophy and coaching background:
“At the end of the day, you become a culmination of everything that you’ve done. But you really do change year-to-year, based on what your personnel is. That’s who your quarterback is, what your skill set is there, [and] who are the skill players around him. Whether you’re going to play in three-wide-receiver sets, four-wide-receiver sets, or you’re going to be in two-tight-end sets. We’ve played in all of those things. It comes down to always looking at … I think it’s critical on the offensive side of the ball, but it’s the same thing I’m going to talk to our defensive staff and our special teams staff about, is don’t look at what kids can’t do. Look at what they can do at a high level. Put them in a position of success. That is a coach’s job. Understand who your players are and put them in a position of success. We’ll base what we do offensively, as far as our personnel groupings and some of the subtle schemes, based on what our personnel is. It’s grown and changed throughout the years, for sure.”
On how he will go about establishing a new system in one offseason and if Kevin Steele is someone he would like to keep on staff moving forward:
“I’m going to have conversations with everybody that is on staff, and I’ll touch on that question first, I think that’s important. We’ve done it successfully multiple times in different places that I have been. Your coaches have to get caught up to speed on what you’re doing if they haven’t been inside of the system. You got to coach your coaches, and then your coaches have to put in time with your players. There’s only one way to get to where you need to be, and that’s time, effort, and energy. Our players have to be willing to go above and beyond to get to where we need to be. We will be able to get there, no question in my mind. As we get into spring ball, through summer workouts and by the time we get to the end of training camp – we’ll be in good position by the time we hit the ground in the fall. ”
On what the firing in 2014 at Oklahoma meant to him and his career:
“It gave me a chance in some ways, just to restart and look at what I wanted to do on the offensive side of the football. As a coordinator, you are always going to try to carry out your coaches’ vision. There were a lot of things we did successfully. I think we were top 10 in the country in offense that year and playing with a freshman quarterback that maybe started the last two thirds of the season and ran into a buzzsaw in the bowl game in which we saw a really good Clemson football team. It gave me an opportunity to reshift my focus on what I wanted to be as far as an identity on the offensive side of the football.”
On the challenges of being hired in late January, opposed to coming in typically in November as a new hire, with signing day and spring football:
“The toughest part is getting a hold on what your roster actually is and what are the needs. With signing day being as close as it is, and all those vacancies you want to fill and hold them – it’s a different landscape now too because of the transfer portal. We talked about that as far as our roster here. Junior college football is taking place this spring as well. So, as you get to spring ball, you potentially are going to need to fill some spots on your roster at that time as well. It is a different cycle and unique than what it has been in the past.”
On how the players at UCF handled him leaving and if he was able to talk to them, and also if being able to compete for championships at the highest level have anything to do with his decision:
“I got an opportunity to talk with our football team in Orlando this morning. It was important to me that we did that. At the same time, I created a video message for our new football team here in Knoxville. They were able to simultaneously, as I was having that conversation with them, receive a message from me. What I saw as the future of Tennessee football, and things that are important inside of our culture. I love the players in Orlando, it was a hard morning. I said that about my kids, when they found out that their home ways going to change, but they are excited now too. That was a tough conversation because you care deeply about the people you are pouring a lot of your time and energy into as we did. For my family and I coming here, it is because we believe in this university. We believe in this football program. We believe in the leadership that we have here in place, and it’s clearly aligned. There’s a direct correlation to that alignment, and the ability for me to go do my job at the highest level.”
On how he feels he grew as a head coach during his time at UCF and what he learned about the SEC during his time at Missouri:
“I think your communication skills and how clear your communication has to be, not just with your football coaches, but with every support staff group that interacts with your players to give them the best opportunity to be successful. I think that’s the No. 1 thing as I look back on the last three years. I’m in a better place today than I was before.
“The line of scrimmage in this league is different than it is in other leagues, so you have to do a great job of recruiting and developing those guys. That size and strength matters up front, you have to do a great job. You’re going to face elite pass rushers in this league, so you have to do a great job of protecting your quarterback as well, just from an offensive standpoint. But I think the line of scrimmage is the biggest difference.”
On his existing relationship with Danny White from UCF and if he thought he may be a candidate at Tennessee when White was hired last week:
“When Danny got the job here, I was disappointed that he wasn’t going to be there (UCF) anymore. We had a conversation after it went public and I wished him well and that was really the end of that conversation. I didn’t really think about this opportunity in that way. I think as a football coach, you’re typically just living in the environment that you’re in. You’re so encapsulated in that and that’s your sole focus that you don’t think outside of those things. I think for Danny and I – and I don’t want to speak for him, but for me, there’s great comfort in coming here and knowing exactly what you’re going to get, the type of leader that you’re going to deal with the most. There’s a clear vision of what he wants for the student-athlete experience, which is extremely important, and a clear vision in what he wants in an athletic department as a whole. There are a lot of entities inside our program here that are doing very well. You look at our basketball programs. It’s my job to make sure that we’re getting this built to the level where we can go chase championships every year too.”
On the long-term vision of sustained success for Tennessee football:
“We had a conversation about what are we looking for and how are we trying to build this. It’s a long-term vision. I believe that we can have immediate success as well. We have really good players inside of that locker room. I’ve watched a little bit of tape and have seen some of them in recruiting. There are good players in there. It’s our job as a coaching staff to get them ready to play their absolute best and go compete every Saturday. But at the same time there’s a long-term vision of what we’re trying to build here for sustainable success and a clear vision of how we’re trying to do that.”
On what qualities a quarterback needs to possess to be successful in his offensive system:
“We’ve had different guys play with a different skill set. Going back through my tenure, we’ve had guys that were pure pocket guys to guys that have been able to use their feet in the run game in designed runs or reading pressures off the edge, using feet in scrambles. And we’ve also had guys that have fallen somewhere in-between. We’ve had 6’3 guys and guys that were 5’10 in the last couple years at UCF. It’s about the makeup and the guy inside as much as it is anything. How competitive are they? I think that’s incredibly important. It drives them every day. What is their ability to react and respond to adverse situations? Can they wipe the slate clean from the previous play? Can they handle all the noise and all the pressure that’s going on around them, not just on gameday, but in everyday life as they walk through campus? Can they meet the expectations and the work habits that you have to have? All of those little things add up to a guy playing at a championship level at that position. And if you’re going to chase championships, you better have a championship quarterback.”
On why his last season at UCF wasn’t as successful as his first two seasons:
“All of our games, except for one loss, were one possession games. They were really tight ball games. This past year, everyone was dealing with it, COVID was a unique situation in itself in terms of how you brought your football team back. What were their workouts while they were away from you? When did you actually get your entire team back? What did your practice habits look like? For us, we didn’t meet until the fourth game of the season, as far as being in a full team meeting that wasn’t virtual. We lost some close ones and at the beginning of the season, I believe we had 10 opt-outs. All of those came because of different reasons and different challenges that they faced in their backgrounds. For some of them it may have been a parent that was ill. Some of them had young children. They had different backgrounds. As the season went along, it wore on. I thought we got thinner as a football team and lost a couple of close ones to some good football teams.”
On how much he will reach out to former Tennessee football players to make sure that know that they’re always welcome:
“If you played football here, you’re welcome back here. I don’t care if that’s spring practice. I don’t care if that’s observing a workout. I want them around our football program. That’s important to me. I hope that when we get back to having spring games – I’m assuming there’s an event that surrounds that weekend for former players, such as a golfing outing and coming to the game. I want guys here. Our guys that are currently playing, hopefully they come back and they’re working out here during the offseason. Those are all things that I think are important. They give back to the players that are here. Hopefully, that does happen. Will I reach out to them? Absolutely.”
On making Tennessee the big focus for in-state recruits:
“I do believe that I’d like to close the borders and not let any of them out. Is it going to be a focus? It absolutely will be a focus for us. That’s the challenge for myself and for our coaching staff, to make contact with those guys and make sure they understand the importance they have inside of our football program and the opportunity that they have inside of our football program. Today being day one for me, I want to give them a clear vision of what we anticipate this looking like when you’re here.”
On if he got any advice from colleagues as he considered the Tennessee job:
“I think all the elements to win here are here. You are the biggest show. You walk out in that stadium and there are 100,000-plus fans inside the stadium. Our facilities are as good as there are in the entire country. You’re going to get a world-class education. A lot of the infrastructure that you need to be successful is absolutely here. Now, it’s about putting the right people in place to reach our young people so that we can have sustainable success here. We certainly believe that, having competed against them in the past, having watched them from afar and having talked to coaches that have been inside of this program in recent history.”
Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics Danny White
On at what point in the search he started to have conversations with Josh:
“It actually wasn’t until recently. The more I visited with candidates and vetted the very best coach – not just in a vacuum, but for our set of circumstances here – the brand of football, that my sense is what our fans are looking for, but more importantly what the student-athletes are really craving, what they shared with me, I just kind of realized the best option was the guy that I’ve been working with for the last three years.”
On what things Josh brings that will translate well here and what things might have to change:
“A lot of what has happened at UCF will translate well here. What’s been accomplished there by a whole lot of people has been phenomenal. I see nothing but opportunity here. Last week the chancellor talked a lot about building, and we were about building something young at UCF and that’s going to continue to grow and I know it will. We’re excited about building Tennessee back to the point where it was an iconic brand at one point.”
On the patience it will to take to rebuild the Tennessee football program:
“I am impatient, but I have to show patience. Our fans have to show patience. We don’t know what success looks like next year or the year after. There are a lot of challenges. I know that kids want to compete at a high level next year. I know that our head coach wants to compete at a high level next year, and I do too. We are going to go out there and try to win every single football game, but we have to understand the challenges that we’re facing in terms of a competitive level, where we’ve been, obviously the investigation and some of the unknowns there. But, I looked at our student-athletes in the eyes on Saturday and said I am going to hire a football coach that I think gives you the best opportunity to win next season. They said, ‘please do not hire somebody that you think is going to be good three or four years from now.’ I said, ‘I won’t do that.’ We want to win right away, but we all need to have some things in perspective and understand that Josh and his staff he’s going to put together, their focus is going to be on being competitors from day one, but also building this thing for the long haul. Like I talked about last week, consistently competitive and build it in a way where it is sustainable, build it the right way, do all the things we’ve talked about. Be student-athlete centered and extremely competitive.”
On how Josh Heupel has changed in the last three years and what was unexpected in the coaching search:
“You learn a lot through every life experience, professional experience. Is Josh a better coach than he was three years ago? Heck yeah. He’s grown a lot and I’ve grown a lot as an athletic director. I think the experiences we go through make us better. This press conference is going to make me better. That’s why as we go through a search, we value those experiences and we value people that have been a head coach, that have kind of walked in those shoes.
“To talk about experiences again, going through several searches, what I’ve leaned is you really can’t have expectations because you don’t know where you’re going to land. At the beginning of this, I did not expect to hire Josh Heupel, not because I don’t think he’s one heck of a football coach, I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t think that, but I really didn’t want to do that to UCF. I know I have some people mad at me right now. I love y’all, I promise. I love UCF and I want the very best for that place that’s been so good to me and my family, but searches are fluid and you need to take all the information you can. As I said last week, I am far from the smartest person in the room, but I was extremely close to this and I’m moderately intelligent, and I worked really hard to make the best decision that I think is in the best interest of Tennessee, knowing everything I had learned from student-athletes, from our leadership, from information I gained from key alumni and donors, and just try to make the right fit. It’s about fit. Sometimes it’s not just a location thing, it’s a status of the program thing, it’s a status of the roster thing, it’s a leadership thing, there’s so many factors that go into fit and at the end of the day, in my assessment, this is the very best fit for us. Josh Heupel is going to do a heck of a job as our head football coach and I couldn’t be more excited to have him here.”
On how he responded to fans comments about the investigation and what he said to Coach Heupel about the investigation:
“I had the same questions two weeks ago when I was assessing coming to Knoxville and being a part of what I mentioned last week, which we’ve got a long-term unbelievable opportunity to restore this brand and do some really great work here. This is a short-term problem, and I think our leadership has done a phenomenal job identifying the issue, working with, I think, the very best law firm that works on these sorts of things with the NCAA, and being extremely proactive and very transparent with the NCAA staff. I think we’re attacking it head on, and by doing it that way I think we’re going to get through it. I say fairly quickly in comparison to some other examples that we’ve seen historically in college athletics. This is a short-term issue and we expect to put it in the rearview mirror as soon as possible and continue to move forward. That doesn’t stop us from building our long-term vison now and for starting to build the foundation now while managing what I think our new head football coach called it—a speed bump.”
On why the search did not start with Josh Heupel if he was the leading candidate:
“I didn’t have a top candidate at the beginning of the search. I think I said last week I don’t start a coaching search with a specific endgame in mind. I don’t think that’s smart. I learn as I go through a search. I learn before I start interviewing people. I didn’t talk to a single candidate until I had gained as much information as I could—until I had met with our student athletes and learned from them. As I go through those interviews, I go learn through those interviews. We interviewed good people. They’re smart people too. They know more about football than I do. I learned about their opinion of the situation and I can compare all those conversations and all of that information led to the decision that I made, and I couldn’t feel better about it.”
On if he was aware of Tennessee fans’ love of tracking planes during a coaching search and if he tried to talk to the NCAA about the violations:
“I know that they tracked a plane that took my family back. My kids had to go to school. I will say that had nothing to do with the search, but I’m pretty sure that they paid attention in class this week.
“I didn’t talk to the NCAA directly. I don’t think they need the fundraising, marketing-focused, hard-charging AD—I wouldn’t understand what they were saying to me. People way smarter than me talked to them and briefed me so I was able to talk to coaches about the set of circumstances that were forecasted. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. Between the outside council we’re working with and our compliance folks that have a ton of experience in that area, they’re having those conversations and educate me about it.”
On how important it was for Tennessee to quickly hire him and for him to quickly hire Josh Heupel:
“I think it was really important. I think it’s a strong sign of smart leadership. John Hitt, the retired President at UCF did the same thing. He hired me there to then hire a football coach. We’ve talked quite a bit over the last couple of weeks about the alignment of our leadership. Good leadership, strong leaders hire people to do their jobs. I’ve received nothing but unbelievable support throughout this search since I raised my hand to come here to Knoxville. I think hiring an athletic director and then hiring a football coach is how it should be done. I feel unbelievably honored to be empowered to manage this athletics department and lead this athletics department into hopefully a really prosperous and bright future.”
On Scott Carr being named interim Athletics Director at UCF:
“Scott Carr is a talented leader. I’m excited for him. I talked to him just a short while ago. UCF has an incredibly bright future. It was really hard for me to leave. I know it was really hard for Josh to leave. We talked about it. We love that place and I know it’s going to continue to grow. Scott’s going to do a great job for them and I’m going to help in any way I can. President (Alexander) Cartwright is an unbelievable leader. I told him last night that anything that I can do to help in this transition, now that I’m through the search, I’m 100% on board to help them in any way that I can be of assistance.”
On the responsibility of Josh Heupel to help restore Tennessee:
“I mentioned earlier about restoring an iconic brand in college sports. I think with any successful organization, it starts internally. It starts with those kids. It starts as we build and he builds a staff. It grows to that staff and then it grows to the rest of our athletics department, all of our supporters, our university leadership, our fans and donors. You’ve got to start, most importantly, with those student-athletes and make sure that we’re doing the right things every day to maximize who they can be and that we’re recruiting the right way to bring new kids in to be a part of what we’re doing. That’s what we did at UCF. You can’t start a marketing campaign to sell out a stadium or to win football games. You’ve got to be really good and really true in walking the walk and following through with who you say you want to be. I know that’s what he’ll do. That’s his ultimate responsibility.”
On his message to the Tennessee fan base about maintaining positivity:
“Some of you are awesome. Some of you are failing right now. Why would we be negative? The future of this place is unbelievably exciting and positive, and I couldn’t be more excited to be here and I see nothing but great days ahead. I know that our fans are extremely passionate, and I love that. I can’t wait to know many of them and work with them. I can’t get to know them all because there’s so many of them, but the idea of turning your passion and something you love into negativity, I don’t understand that. I think that this athletics department has been through some challenges, and again, we have really great days ahead. I think people will see that and start having some more fun with their Vol fandom.”
On Josh Heupel putting together an assistant coaching staff:
“What I mentioned earlier about our leadership empowering me to run our athletics department, I don’t know anything about running a football program, but this guy does and he has a proven track record of doing it. All of those decisions will be his as our head football coach.”