Tennessee football is booming; Josh Heupel and staff continuity are behind the early success of Vols

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It’s Tennessee’s highest ranking since 2016, and the Vols (3-0) opened as near double-digit (9.5) favorites this week against the former Eastern Conference Division foe. Southeast, Florida (2-1, 0-1) – who have won 16 of the last 17 meetings in the series.

Not to be overlooked in Tennessee’s trailblazing success under Heupel has been the former Oklahoma quarterback and Central Florida head coach’s ability to muster and retain a strong group. quality assistant coaches.

Consider: Florida has all-new staff in Gainesville after Scott Stricklin fired Dan Mullen & Co. in late 2021; Georgia lost top defensive coordinator Dan Lanning to Oregon and prized offensive assistant Cortez Hankton to SEC rival LSU; Kentucky lost defensive co-coordinator Jon Sumrall as chief to Troy and offensive coordinator Liam Coen to an NFL caller; Vanderbilt also left David Raih as offensive coordinator to promote Joey Lynch after the 2021 season.

Meanwhile, Heupel lost an offensive assistant — Kodi Burns to an NFL assistant position — and already had his replacement on staff.

“We are going to have staff members who have opportunities to advance their careers as we go on and you want that for your staff,” Heupel told FootballScoop on Wednesday during the SEC coaching conference call. “You just don’t want them going for lateral moves.

“Kelsey (Pope) was a no-brainer for us, for me, becoming a full-time staff member. Who he is, how he communicates, his ability to be a great teacher, to develop relationships. He is the right culture and the right coach.

Heupel also praised the quality of life for the East Tennessee Vols coaches.

“I think the culture inside the building is an important element in being able to retain people. An environment where you compete very hard and work very hard, there’s just no getting around that in college football, but you appreciate the people you work with,” Heupel said. “From the energy and the relationships with the coaches to the community with the wives where they love being together, you can include your family, the success we have on the pitch building something. And the players and their attitudes and behaviors.

“Environment and culture play an important role in the ability to retain people. I attribute it to all of these factors. And the last bit for me, and I didn’t realize it until I got there. Obviously, the facilities and resources here at UT are second to none, but it’s a great place to live. it is. We really are, I call it a college town. Everything is orange and white. At the same time, it’s big enough to provide unique opportunities to spend time away from play and work.

Heupel was also empowered to reinvest in its staff.

In addition to his own reworked contract, which included a seven-figure raise but still left Heupel in 11th placee among SEC head coaches, Heupel handed out raises of varying levels to every assistant coach he brought back from the 2021 campaign that resulted in a spot in the Music City Bowl.

The Vols’ assistant coach salary pool hovers around a school high at nearly $7 million, but it’s still well below many competitors – including Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Florida and the USA. Ohio State, among others, who have in many cases topped $8 million in assistant coach money.

“Just as we’re able to build and show success, and build momentum here, the ability to continue to give them growth opportunities and certainly the financial side is part of that,” Heupel said of the new deals. assistants. “Our administration is doing a good job realizing the talent we have in the building (in staff) and we want to continue to retain these guys.”

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