When Josh Heupel was introduced as the Tennessee Vols’ new head coach last month, he spoke a lot about family and being “connected” in the locker room.

“There has to be a sense of belonging and brotherhood that resides in that locker room,” explained Heupel during his introductory press conference. “To do that you have to spend time with each other and you have to do things outside of the game.”

That sounds like a pretty standard line from a football coach. “Family” is something that a lot of head coaches preach during media sessions.

But when it comes to Heupel, family isn’t just a talking point during a press conference. It’s the foundation of who Heupel is as a head coach. And he proved that during his time at UCF.

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According to The Athletic’s David Ubben, when Heupel was hired at UCF, he met with each player on the team — regardless of their perceived importance to the team — to learn more about each player personally.

“When he came in and showed he wanted to connect with us and learn who we were personally, it showed us that he meant what he preached,” said UCF punter Mac Loudermilk (via The Athletic). “He wanted us to succeed on the field, in the classroom and after football.”

Something else that Heupel did to create a strong connection among the team and the coaching staff was to set up meetings between offensive players and defensive coaches (and vice versa). Those players/coaches typically don’t interact much, so those meetings helped create a stronger bond with the entire team.

Another thing Heupel did at UCF, according to Ubben, was ask a lot of questions of his players. Heupel didn’t force things on his players — he would ask them what was working and what wasn’t working. And he utilized that feedback to make the program better.

When players trust the coaches, great things are possible. Heupel has a history of creating a strong trust between the coaching staff and the players. When that happens, team chemistry will instantly be improved.

Previous Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt cared deeply about his players. But Pruitt failed when it came to creating a strong team atmosphere. The play on the field suffered as a result.

Heupel will get to the X’s and O’s soon enough (once spring practice gets underway), but right now he’s focusing on creating team chemistry, which will ultimately be the reason Tennessee either fails or succeeds.

Fortunately for the Vols, they have a head coach in Heupel with plenty of experience when it comes to creating a winning atmosphere.

Featured image via UTAD

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