Tennessee’s success under Josh Heupel has been mostly due to his own coaching, both in terms of game preparation and in-game decisions. Those traits should be on shining display this fall.
Heupel has given the Vols an enigmatic offense to produce points even against more talented teams. Now that Heupel’s coaching has been established, he stacks up quite well against the teams lined up for the Vols on the schedule this season.
Let’s start with the parameters. I’m basing Heupel’s ranking off of two things. First, previous success matters. That’s No. 1. Second, and especially in the close calls, Heupel’s success at a rebuilding, elite jobs like Tennessee has to be weighed a bit heavier because the Vols were so bad when he took over. In other words potential matters and trends matter.
Ready? Here we go.
Heupel would be a more desirable coach than any of the following coaches that he’ll face in 2024: Chattanooga coach Rusty Wright, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren, Kent State coach Kenni Burns, Mississippi State’s Jeff Lebby, UTEP’s Scotty Walden and Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea.
Wright is an old-school coach that is about as opposite as one could be from an innovative standpoint when compared to Heupel. Kent State coach Kenni Burns is a career assistant who was named to his first head coaching job in December. That’s also the case with Jeff Lebby at Mississippi State, who is a highly respected offensive mind, but doesn’t have a track record of success to boost his standing among other coaches.
Walden had success as a head coach at Austin Peay, but no one is calling him the next Nick Saban quite yet. As for Lea, despite his off-season optimism, he’s the coach at Vandy for a reason.
N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren was a candidate for the Vols in various coaching searches. With a 44-46 record in the ACC, the Vols made a better choice than Doeren. Advantage Heupel.
That means Heupel has a clearcut coaching advantage over at least four coaches he’ll face this fall. Wait, there’s more, but let’s clear out the non-arguable coach that Heupel would have to be listed behind on any list: Georgia’s Kirby Smart. Until Heupel can beat Smart, he’s not on the same level as Smart, who has won two national championships. Advantage Smart.
Then, things get interesting.
Oklahoma’s Brent Venables went 10-3 last season after going 6-7 in 2022. Venables, who lost Lebby as his offensive coordinator to State, didn’t take over a barren program as Heupel did earlier this decade. Therefore, Heupel gets the nod. Arkansas’ head coach Sam Pittman is the coach that everyone seems to love, but he’s on the hot seat after a 4-8 campaign last season. That’s also the case with coach Billy Napier at Florida, who seems destined to coach elsewhere very, very soon. Advantage Heupel.
One could certainly give Kentucky’s Mark Stoops a nod over Heupel if they valued longterm success in the SEC. However, let’s not forget Heupel’s success Central Florida. Advantage Heupel.
The x-factor among opposing coaches this season is Kalen DeBoer, who took over for Saban at Alabama. He’s had recent coaching and roster turnover that could undermine his tenure at Alabama. However, he has a College Football Playoff berth on his resume so he should get the nod, right? Perhaps for now, but I believe Heupel will be considered the better coach in just a few short seasons. Advantage (currently) DeBoer.
That means the Vols could well have a coaching advantage in each game they play this season other than the battle against the Bulldogs. Moreover, the Vols’ talent level has increased, which can only help the Vols’ final record. That’s why the oddsmakers have me scratching my head. What am I missing?
The over/under on wins this season is widely considered to be 8 1/2 wins. With better coaching than most and formidable talent, that seems like someone knows something or some don’t believe in rising redshirt freshman Nico Iamaleava. That’s understandable. He’s new. However, he has an advantage over most of the quarterbacks he’ll face this season don’t have. He has better coaching.