KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – New Tennessee head football coach Josh Heupel formally introduced his offensive staff to the media on Wednesday as the Volunteers charted a course for their uptempo offensive philosophy.
The experienced staff includes offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Alex Golesh, wide receivers coach Kodi Burns, offensive line coach Glen Elarbee, quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle and running backs coach Jerry Mack. Including Heupel, the group owns a combined 88 years of collegiate experience, 24 conference championships, 60 bowl game appearances, as well as a history of elite, uptempo offenses.
“We are excited about them being a part of what we’re doing and getting our guys going offensively,” Heupel said. “And again, for us, on the offensive side of the ball, we’re going to play with tempo. We’re going to play in space. We’re going to apply pressure to the defense consistently, and we’ve got a group of guys here on the offensive side of the football that are ready to go lead that charge.”
Golesh, Halzle and Elarbee were all a part of Heupel’s thriving offense at UCF that saw the Knights rank second in the FBS in total offense (568.1), fourth in passing offense (357.4), seventh in total passing yards (3,574) and eighth nationally in scoring offense (42.2) this past fall. Including his time at Missouri, Heupel’s units ranked in the top 15 nationally in total offense all five seasons. The success began at quarterback.
“Quarterback friendly – we are going to let you rip it,” Halzle said. “We are going to let you rip it all over the field. We are going to teach you. We are going to mold you into the best you can be, and then we are going to turn you loose to go play ball on Saturdays. We don’t make guys play scared.”
Meanwhile, Mack and Burns bring extensive on-field and recruiting success to Knoxville.
Season tickets for the 100th year of Neyland Stadium and the start of the Heupel era are on sale now at AllVols.com. Season tickets start as low as $300, with the Vol Pass and payment plan options offered. Fans can experience the Neyland Stadium 3D map to select tickets based on preference. Fans with questions related to seats, views and options can utilize the live “CHAT” feature on AllVols.com.
Tennessee Football Offensive Staff Press Conference
Wednesday, Feb. 17
Head Coach Josh Heupel
“Hope everybody is doing well. I wanted to start today just by wishing the late General Neyland a happy birthday. It’s an honor to have an opportunity to walk in the footsteps behind him and what he helped build here.
“Awesome to get an opportunity to be able to talk about offensive staff, the men that we’ve collected that will help lead our program here in the future. Guys that are energetic, passionate, they’re great teachers of the game – more importantly, they’re going to invest in our young people off the field. I really do believe that if you take that perspective, you’re going to win-win. You’re going to win on the field and you’re going to win off the field, as well. (This is) a group of guys that some of them, I’ve been with for the last couple of years and some of them that are new to what we’re doing offensively but bring in a great background, both on the recruiting side of it and the development of players as well.
“Alex Golesh, our offensive coordinator, coming with me from UCF, served in a coordinator position last year (and) will coach our tight ends. Before that (he) was at Iowa State. He was part of rebuilding a program there that obviously has become a national power. I look at his ability to recruit, just his track record of being one of the top recruiters in every conference that he’s been in. Great ties to the junior college ranks, as well. (He) will do a great job of serving us as a football program. He has a great understanding of what we do offensively, the tempo that we want to play with, how to create mismatches, and does a great job of teaching the game to our guys, as well. I think you look at his development of the tight ends through his tenure as a coach, he has developed some guys that have become all-conference players, a Mackey Award finalist, so looking forward to having him here and obviously our tight ends are, as well.
“The second guy I’d like to talk about is Kodi Burns. A guy that I actually recruited coming out of high school before he went to Auburn to play football. So, I had a long track record with him just dating back to him in his high school days. I’ve watched him from afar. Great player, unselfish and a guy that post playing career has just done a phenomenal job on the recruiting side of it and also developing players. He served in a co-coordinator title last year at Auburn. (He’s) played in this league, understands this league, has recruited it and done it at a really high level, and I’m excited about having him as a part of our staff.
“Glen Elarbee, our offensive line coach, coming with me from UCF. Glen and I have been together for the last five years. He was a part of turning around the offensive side of the football when we were at Missouri together, leading the league in offense our years there together. Went with me to UCF and is a phenomenal teacher of the game. You look at offensively what we’ve been able to do, the ability to protect the quarterback and the ability to run the football – I think all of our offenses were top 25 in rushing the last three years at UCF. He’s a guy that’s going to be great off the field, a tremendous recruiter and he’s a great technician. He has the ability to teach these guys at a really high level. We have already seen that with some of the stuff that we’ve been doing with our players here, their ability to comprehend and retention. They’re excited about what’s going on there.
“Joey Halzle will be coaching our quarterbacks. Joey and I have been together the last 13 years on the coaching side of it. He played for me at Oklahoma, was in a room with a Heisman Trophy winner in Sam Bradford. He’s been a part of high-level development of the quarterback position. Part of Landry Jones, who I think finished fourth in the history of college football in passing yards when he finished, the development of Drew Lock at Missouri, second-round draft pick. Look at what he’s done with Dillon Gabriel at UCF, who was leading the country in passing at one point this year. He understands the game, does a great job of teaching it, understands the fundamentals, understands the scheme and will do a great job of developing that position. I think that’s one of the most under coached positions in all of football. The ability of the coordinator or the guy that’s coaching that position to really understand footwork, eye training, body position to allow those guys not just to understand scheme, but to understand the position you got to be in to be successful and to be accurate with the football and to be decisive. He’ll do a great job there.
“The last guy I’m going to talk about is Jerry Mack, who will be coaching our running backs. Look at his track record, he comes from Rice as an offensive coordinator, understanding the entire perspective on the offensive side of the football. He was a tremendous head coach. I think coach of the year honors maybe three times during his head coaching career. He gets it from a global perspective, just how to run a program and what we’re doing offensively. He’ll get caught up to speed on what we’re doing. Just being in the room with him, already he’s got tremendous ideas on things we can continue to grow and develop in. He will do a great job of teaching our running backs and controlling that position and we’re excited about having him here and a great group of men that will do a tremendous job of instilling confidence, energy, passion and work ethic in our young guys.
“We are excited about them being a part of what we’re doing and getting our guys going offensively. And again, for us, on the offensive side of the ball, we’re going to play with tempo. We’re going to play in space. We’re going to apply pressure to the defense consistently, and we’ve got a group of guys here on the offensive side of the football that are ready to go lead that charge.”
Offensive Coordinator Alex Golesh
“I’m fired up to be here. It’s an incredible opportunity for me and my family to be here along with Coach Heupel for the last year. This is a great opportunity to come to Knoxville and get the offense going in the right direction here as we start spring ball. These next couple of months are going to be huge for us as far as developing the system and helping our guys grow within the system. We’re going to continue to evaluate the players as far as who fits the system and how they fit in the system but also evaluate them from a positional standpoint, as well. We are going to try to anticipate how they are going through the strength program in the next six months. It’s such a great opportunity to come to a school with tradition, great players and great coaches. We want to put everything behind us but still embrace the past and grow for the future. I couldn’t be more excited. It’s a great opportunity for me, a great opportunity for our staff, a great opportunity for Coach Heupel. The greatest part about our staff is continuity. We’ve worked together in some capacity. Being able to bring Jerry Mack into this is going to allow us to hit the ground running and we already have. The communication and how we work together, we’re ahead of the ball there. The continuity part is huge and Coach Heupel allowing us to do that is huge. I’m fired up and can’t wait. We’re going to assemble this roster in terms of what we want to do.”
On how he is teaching the offense and how players are going to learn and understand the offense …
“The way we play is unique and it’s been publicized by the people that saw what we were doing at UCF. You have to start a big picture on how we play, schematically and tempo, and then start to hone in on the run game and the passing game. We’ve already started on the big picture and then working back down on the fine details on how we operate. Being unique, that’s where it all started. Lining up, splits, tempo, how we call things. You’re starting at ground zero because it’s so different from what the guys that have been here are used to. As we get closer to spring, we want to fine tune the fundamental technique part that we’re doing. We want to start at that big picture standpoint then break it down into smaller pieces.”
On how long it takes for players to be comfortable in this offense …
“Until you get out there and do it day one of spring ball, day one of March or mid-March, until you get out there and physically see it, control it, run it, I think it’s hard to simulate how fast we want to play. You’re teaching it, explaining it and walking through it, but I think until there is wood on the fire and you’re out there with no coaches around, I think it’s really hard. My hope is by practice four, five or six of spring we are hitting at a high tempo, but like any scheme it doesn’t matter because it’s repetition over everything. The more reps these guys get, the better we are going to be and it’s just force-feeding their program and letting these kids make mistakes and correcting them off the film. The hope is by the middle of spring that we’re operating at a high level. We’re just going to continue coaching and it’s a process-based deal in terms of building the offense. By the time we get to August and September, we’ll be hitting on all cylinders.”
Wide Receivers Coach Kodi Burns
On the attributes he wants to see in a receiver as a coach here …
“I think the No. 1 thing in evaluating a wide receiver is ball skills. In this league and the SEC, you have to have to the ability to make competitive catches. So, I think everything starts there. How naturally does he track the ball? Can they adjust? Also can they make catches in traffic really is where it starts to me. With everything off that, there’s speed, change of direction and the ability to get extra yards with the ball in your hands. So, there’s a lot of different things you look for in a wideout, but I think obviously the No. 1 thing for me is ball skills because that’s where it starts at it catching the ball.”
On how big will recruiting the South will be in trying to get players to Tennessee …
“Philosophically, I think recruiting comes down to relationships, and it comes down to not just knowing the student-athlete, but also the people that are important to him. So, philosophically being in the SEC, obviously it’s more so in the South than anywhere else. So, I think the value that I bring is understanding this league. It’s understanding how everything intertwines and works as far as recruiting. So, I think that definitely gives me an advantage, being able to say that, and also having the experience of recruiting in the SEC.”
On how excited he would have been as a former receiver to play in an offense like this …
“There’s no question to me that it’s the core of this league and what Coach Heupel has done. You have to have obviously have a balance between run and pass, but I think the numbers speak for themselves of what Coach Heupel has done not only in the SEC, but also outside of it. Obviously, these past few years at UCF the numbers speak for itself. So, if I’m a wideout, I’m excited about the future here at Tennessee, and really in what we’re going to do offensively throwing the ball. It’s more so the philosophy of getting the ball on the perimeter to your playmakers and letting those guys play. Once again, the numbers really speak for itself. So, that kind of recruits itself, and I think that’s going to help us get some big-time wide receivers in the future.”
On his impressions of the receiver room he inherited …
“When I first looked at the numbers, the first impression is very inexperienced. We lost of couple of guys the last few years that were very productive. We’re going to be young and very inexperienced once again for this league, but there’s also potential. So, we have to just continue to grow and develop these guys into what we want them to be for our team and offense. So, it’s going to be a challenge, and I’m excited about that challenge to truly develop these guys and get those guys to play at a high level to what we think we need to win.”
Offensive Line Coach Glen Elarbee
On what led to the decision to follow Josh Heupel to Tennessee …
“I think it goes back to when I was at Missouri. I’ve said this a bunch. Heupel is the scariest blend of the best human being that I’ve been around that actually cares about people, cares about family and is blended with a freaky smart guy. He’s highly intelligent. I’ve never been around anybody who is that genuine and that smart at the game of football. I wanted to work for him ever since I met him. The decision was pretty easy.”
On the biggest obstacle when implementing a new up-tempo scheme and what he learned in his first season at Missouri …
“Where we started here is typically the biggest change, because defenses, when we play them week-to-week, you have to know where all 11 guys are and actually be able to identify them and track them. Us being able to know how defense is actually structured and adjust at the beginning of the game, that’s probably the biggest change for guys when we first start. Going back to Missouri, guys were hungry for success. They wanted to go be able to score points. They enjoy the success of playing good on offense. I think you just ask them to continue to do things differently and they stay open minded, because they see the success it brings.”
On being able to recruit another tackle on signing day and how important it is to add guys that have been evaluated …
“Coach Heupel did a great job. We do need some depth at that position. We’ve got some good young guys and some guys coming back, but that is an area that we needed depth. He did an awesome job of going back on past experiences and guys that we knew were available. I think with Jeremiah (Crawford), you get a guy that is plenty athletic, can do what we want and has the measurables. That was a huge piece for us that will help us depth wise and also bringing in a guy that has had more experience as well.”
Quarterbacks Coach Joey Halzle
On if this offense is quarterback friendly …
“I would say quarterback friendly. We are going to let you rip it. We are going to let you rip it all over the field. We are going to put a lot on you. To me, I would say that is quarterback friendly because we are not going to hold your hand. We are going to teach you. We are going to mold you into the best that you can be, and we are going to turn you loose to go play ball on Saturdays. We don’t make guys play scared. We don’t make them afraid to make mistakes. Go out there and cut it loose, but we do put a lot on them. In recruiting that’s a big thing for us. We are very upfront with that, and we want guys that think that is an awesome thing, that there is going to be a lot on the quarterback, that it is going to be on your shoulders to get us in the right play to get the ball to the right spot. In that sense, it is very quarterback friendly and that you are going to get an opportunity to showcase your skills every Saturday.”
On what his relationship with Josh Heupel has been and the evolution of Heupel’s offensive scheme through the years …
“I played for Coach Heupel at Oklahoma then I worked with him there, and we’ve been together the rest of the way. He’s grown so much in his offense and that’s what I love about working for Coach Heupel. He’s not dug into, ‘I’m going to do this. Whatever the talent is, whatever we have and whoever our players are, we’re doing this and they’re going to fit it.’ He molds his scheme. He molds what he has to fit his players and that’s a testament to him. We have our base stuff that we love and we’re going to do, but he does a really good job of designing plays, designing an offense and designing a strategy to find who our guy is. Who are our wide-outs? Who is our back? What is out O-Line? Then, let’s make them as good as they can be and put them in the best possible position to be successful, because that is our job. We teach. That’s what we do. But, our job is to make sure those guys can go out on Saturdays and be successful.”
On how he teaches the offense to the team’s quarterbacks …
“The starting point for us is we always have to deal with formations and splits. We are different than a lot of people like that. Then, you’ve got to teach the individual routes that we’re working, so we have a frame of reference when we’re speaking to each other. You know what I’m saying, I know that you understand what I’m saying. Then, from how everything groups together productionally and in your run game. What are my run game rules? What are my protection rules? You just build from, the very beginning of splits, formations, individual routes and then how does it all group into the full scheme of the offense? Most importantly, how does the defensive structure fit into that? We’re not just going out there blind, chucking it and hoping it works. We’re going to have a reason for why we’re doing everything that we’re doing. It starts with us and then we work in how the defense effect it, what our response is and we move forward from there.”
On if he believes that it’s important to stretch the field with a quarterback that can throw downfield …
“Absolutely. With our wide splits, we do push the ball vertically. We do a lot in the run-pass game. That kind of takes over a lot of the shorter stuff for us. When we’re playing in these splits, and we like to push it vertically, a guy that can stretch it and really put a lot of stress on the defense is a big-time attribute for this offense.”
Running Backs Coach Jerry Mack
On his thoughts about Josh Heupel‘s offense …
“High octane and explosive. I think any young person in the country wants to be a part of a system like this—a system that you know at any given point during the game that you’re going to be able to put up points. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve always studied Coach Heupel’s systems. I’ve had a chance now to really get into the nuts and bolts of how everything comes together, and it’s really just amazing. It’s amazing how his mind works because he’s been in the system a long time. I’m excited about getting an opportunity to learn and grow in all of those different things that he brings to the table and add my input whenever I’m asked.”
On what made the move to Tennessee the right move from a personality standpoint …
“We’re in a different world right now with the Zoom sessions and doing interviews through Zoom. I had a chance to call around—it’s a big business but it’s a small business when you get down to it because of relationships with other guys that you know. So, getting a chance to talk to some of my colleagues in the profession and getting a chance to hear about Coach Heupel—how great they are to work with—that weighed my decision. Obviously, it was the opportunity to come to the SEC and work at the University of Tennessee being from the state of Tennessee. I also knew what kind of program this was. I think the people in the building are what’s really important. That’s one thing that swayed me to head this way.”
On if he likes the theory of rotating running backs to keep them fresh …
“I do. Obviously, the best person is going to play to start out the game. Guys are going to earn the right to play. That’s the biggest thing I can tell you right now in our room. We’re making tries at that right now not only on the field, but off the field, holding guys accountable. I have in the past played with a few different backs. There are situations where you made need a different back. Situational football plays a big part in that as well.”