Tennessee Vols head coach Josh Heupel has talked a lot about family and being “connected” during his first couple of months on Rocky Top.
It’s not revolutionary stuff that we’re hearing from Heupel — close teams often yield better results than teams that aren’t close. That’s true at every level of sports.
Heupel, however, isn’t just throwing around these statements to sound good on the podium when he’s talking to reporters. This is who he is as a person.
And there’s a simple quote from the Vols head coach this past week that shows us exactly who Heupel is as a person and a coach.
Heupel is big on being consistent — being the same person every day so players can trust him (and his staff).
“Just consistency in the way that we interact and communicate with our players every day, I think is something that’s really important,” said Heupel recently to 247Sports’ Brandon Marcello. “They see you walking down the hallway, they know exactly who you’re going to be and what the interactions are going to be like. We’ve been that way as a staff and I think that’s why we’re continuing to grow in a really positive way every day.”
I think this is one of the most important things I’ve heard Heupel say since he arrived in Knoxville in late January.
Heupel clearly doesn’t want any tension around the program — he wants his players to feel comfortable when they see him. He doesn’t want awkwardness or forced interactions. This is a sharp departure from the Jeremy Pruitt era when the program seemed as tense as ever (and tense players don’t play well).
Fortunately for the Vols, Heupel has completely changed the atmosphere at Tennessee. And that’s evidenced by recent comments from senior wide receiver Velus Jones.
“You know how like you go back home, with your mom, dad, sisters, and stuff, we’re just comfortable,” said Jones this week on The Slice podcast. “Like you can be yourself. You don’t have to try to put on this mask of being somebody you’re not. You’re able to be yourself and I feel like that’s really important when it comes to your confidence and stuff like that.”
The Vols obviously have a long way to go. They’re not going to become contenders in the SEC overnight just because the atmosphere has changed. They still have to go out on the field on Saturdays this fall and execute at a high level.
But I think it’s clear that there’s a level of trust now between coaches, players, and teammates that was missing before.
Will Heupel succeed in his efforts to rebuild Tennessee’s football program?
I have no idea. No one does.
But I know it’s going to be fun to watch.
Featured image via Tennessee Athletic Communications/Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports