Tennessee and coach Josh Heupel have agreed to contract extension which includes a raise that will pay him $9 million annually and keep him in Knoxville through the 2028 season. Heupel is 18-8 in two seasons leading the Volunteers, and led them to their first New Year’s Six/BCS Bowl since 1999 following the 2022 season. The Volunteers finished ranked No. 6 in the final AP Top 25 and was the No. 1 team in the country in the first College Football Playoff Rankings of the 2022 campaign.
“The results over Josh’s first two seasons speak for themselves,” athletics director Danny White said. “He and his staff have energized both our football program and our fanbase with an aggressive brand of football, a competitive culture that creates leaders and a relentless approach to raising the bar every single day. Despite a brief period of dormancy, Tennessee never surrendered its status as a college football powerhouse. We just needed an innovative leader like Josh Heupel to reignite the spark. It’s been fun to crash the party, but as Josh said after our Orange Bowl triumph, the best is yet to come.”
Tennessee finished with the top scoring offense in the country in 2022 (46.1) and the best total offense in the country (525.5) as he helped quarterback quarterback Hendon Hooker evolve into one of the best quarterback’s in the country. Hooker threw for 3,135 yards, rushed for 430 yards and accounted for 32 total touchdowns.
“I am grateful to President [Randy] Boyd, Chancellor [Donde] Plowman, Danny White and of Vol Nation for their tremendous support,” Heupel said. “Our staff takes great pride in representing the Power T, and it’s something we never take for granted. We will continue to work tirelessly to build a championship program that all of Vol Nation and all VFLs can be proud of.”
Heupel arrived to Tennessee from UCF where he posted a 28-8 record with the Knights program from 2018-20.
Tennessee is finally stable
The Tennessee coaching list since the Volunteers broke up with Phillip Fulmer in 2008 reads like the punchline to a very sad joke. Lane Kiffin left after one year, Derek Dooley’s most notable accomplishment was wearing orange pants on the sideline, Butch Jones didn’t even have enough bricks to build a foundation and Jeremy Pruitt left the program mired in an NCAA investigation.
Heupel reversed those fortunes and gave Vol Nation hope after just two seasons. Not false hope like those other failed coaching experiments. Real, demonstrable hope that included seven straight weeks in the top 10. He broke the 15-year losing streak to Alabama, went on the road to beat eventual SEC West champion LSU and kept Tennessee in the national title race into mid-November.
Will Heupel be able to keep the momentum going in 2023? A berth in the CFP will be a lot to ask. But if he can keep the Vols in the SEC East title race and pose the greatest threat to Georgia in the SEC East, that will be more than enough to prove that he’s worth the hefty price tag.
It’s the appropriate market value
Speaking of the $9 million price tag, it does jump off the page a bit. However, it is appropriate considering the SEC coaching market. It’s still less than what Alabama’s Nick Saban, Georgia’s Kirby Smart, LSU’s Brian Kelly and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher make; and equal to the average salary Kiffin hauls in at Ole Miss and what Mark Stoops makes at Kentucky. All of the coaches mentioned other than Stoops have either won at least one national championship or appeared in a New Year’s Six/BCS game.
The only coach who has made a New Year’s Six or BCS bowl game who makes less than Heupel is Auburn’s Hugh Freeze — who just got hired this season and had his share of issues when he was at Ole Miss.
Like it or not, Heupel deserves this kind of money based on where he fits into the modern coaching spectrum.
He’s already capitalizing on his success
One peek at the 2023 247Sports team recruiting rankings will show you how much hype that Heupel has generated among high school and transfer prospects. The Vols are currently ranked No. 8 in the country heading into traditional signing day next week, and one of those players is five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava — the third-ranked player in the nation. That momentum will likely continue.
Heupel is locked in at Tennessee through the duration of all of these players’ college careers, and the success of his offense at the FBS level will undoubtedly be a draw to star players at skill positions for years to come.