UCF introduced its replacement for Scott Frost on Tuesday.
He’s a young, midwestern, first-time head coach who most recently ran an up-tempo, high-scoring offense as a coordinator and was a national championship-winning starting quarterback from a Big 12 school a generation ago.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
UCF Athletics Director Danny White isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel with the hiring of Josh Heupel; he’s just trying to keep it moving forward. Heupel’s name wasn’t spinning in the rumor mill leading up to Tuesday’s announcement, but he makes almost perfect sense for a UCF offense that is made to run Heupel’s spread system, which helped Missouri average close to 40 points per game this season.
“Josh likes to score. He likes to see that scoreboard light up,” UCF President John Hitt said Tuesday. “Who in this room doesn’t?”
— #TheHeupIsReal ⚔️ (@UCF_Football) December 6, 2017
It’s not just an on-the-field fit that White and his players were looking for. The athletics director met with the Knights’ team representatives following Saturday’s AAC Championship, and they made it clear to White that they want someone who would build upon the family atmosphere Frost instilled. Minutes before that meeting, safety Tre Neal talked to the press about how much hate existed inside this program just two years ago when the Knights went 0-12. Linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who wasn’t given a fair shot to play prior to Frost’s arrival, said there was sharp acrimony between the players and the coaches, and that everyone only cared about themselves.
Frost changed that. Now, again, it’s Heupel’s job to keep it going. That shouldn’t be a problem considering how often Heupel mentioned family and the importance of building relationships during his introductory press conference.
“I believe that your players need to understand that you love them,” he said. “Not just for the four years that they’re here, not just while they’re on the football field between the white lines. It is ultimately about a relationship that lasts for the next 40 years that is deep and meaningful and is going to be something that helps propel them throughout their entire life to achieve success.”
Heupel and the game of football have shared a close relationship for all of his 39 years. He grew up as the son of a football coach in South Dakota. He reminisced Tuesday about how he would ride with his father, Ken, to defensive team meetings and two-a-day practices at 5:30 a.m when he was just 5 years old. Heupel’s parents still come to each one of his ballgames. His father stands on the sidelines, now behind his son, who sees this opportunity with UCF as the culmination of a life-long dream.
“From the time I’ve been little, I’ve always wanted to be a football coach,” he said. “I love the game. I love the mental strategy, the Xs and Os of it. More than anything, I love the relationships that you form inside of the game.”
Player-coach relationships are undoubtedly valuable. However, a college football program’s long-term health relies on recruiting. That’s where possibly the lead to this whole story is being buried. Heupel said one of the attractive parts of this job is being able to coach in the state with the most fertile recruiting ground in America. And very few people know how to tap into that large talent pool better than Randy Shannon, who was tabbed as the Knights’ new defensive coordinator Tuesday. Shannon played and coached at the University of Miami and coached at the University of Florida. Those connections made Shannon a “no-brainer hire,” according to Heupel. After his time in Coral Gables and Gainesville, Shannon is now in Orlando to not only strengthen the Knights’ defense but the entire roster for seasons to come.
“Well let me give you a little story about UCF…”
— #TheHeupIsReal ⚔️ (@UCF_Football) December 5, 2017
The rest of Heupel’s staff will come into view over the following days and weeks. They will all work together to fulfill the promise that Heupel sees with this program: The ability to compete for championships every year. Does that mean a national championship? Shannon thinks so — “BYU won it in 1984.” A national championship is just about the only goal the Knights didn’t — or rather couldn’t — achieve in 2017 under Frost. Heupel recognizes the pressure of expectation that exists now thanks to his predecessor, but he’s used to such circumstances.
“There’s no pressure that’s greater than that I would have already put on myself,” Heupel said. “I’ve played on big stages, I’ve played in big games. I’ve coached in them, too. At the end of the day, when you walk across the white lines, it’s all the same. … We’re going to build this program from where it’s at and take it to higher heights.”
White is looking forward to a day when those higher heights are reached without the distraction of what he called a “coaching carrousel disaster” overshadowing what is accomplished on the field. White has done what he can to ensure that such a situation doesn’t take place for at least four years. Near the bottom of Heupel’s memorandum of understanding, a line states that if Heupel takes another job in college or pro football prior to UCF’s 2020 bowl game, either he or the benefiting organization will owe UCF a $10 million buyout. We’ve seen in the past few weeks that $10 million isn’t an untenable amount of money if some other program wants your head coach; many coaches have a buyout north of that. But considering that Frost’s buyout was $3 million, the message is clear.
“Hopefully this is a very long-term decision,” White said.
That could end up being one difference between UCF’s old head coach and its new one.
"It's really a fulfillment of a dream."
— #TheHeupIsReal ⚔️ (@UCF_Football) December 5, 2017