It’s been a transformative week for the UCF athletics department, especially with the football team as Danny White hopped on a plane to Knoxville and took his buddy Josh Heupel with him, leaving UCF with interim AD Scott Carr and interim head coach Randy Shannon.
In a special edition of Roundtable, Jeff Sharon, Jeremy Brener, Eric Lopez, Brian Murphy, and Andrew Gluchov take their seats to answer questions about the UCF Knights and their futures with a new athletics director and football head coach.
1) How do you feel about Danny White leaving UCF to take the Tennessee AD job?
Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon): As a fan, I’m sad about it. Danny did so much to help UCF realize the potential we’ve spent years - literally years - saying it had, but nobody tapped into it. He tapped into it. I think we all knew this day would come eventually, but still.
Jeremy Brener (@JeremyBrener): I’m a little surprised to be honest. White always mentioned how UCF was the perfect place to build and there’s a sense of challenge in directing a program like UCF that you can’t find at Power 5 schools. However, money talks, and the cash screamed at White. It’s hard to deny a job offer when you’re offered as much money as White is, so I understand. That doesn’t mean I have to like it though.
Eric Lopez (@EricLopezELO): How fast it happened was stunning. It came out of the blue. However, it makes sense with the White family and Manning family being friends and White’s desire to be a builder. He has done all he can do at UCF. Time for a new challenge.
Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy): You’re never truly prepared for it, but as UCF women’s basketball head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said last week, it was just a matter of time considering how successful White was here. Yes, Tennessee is staring right into the face of NCAA sanctions, but it’s still a job worth taking. White gets SEC money, SEC exposure, SEC resources, etc. And best of all for Danny, it gives him an opportunity to do what he does best: Clean s*** up. He did it at Buffalo. He did it at UCF. Never be afraid to challenge yourself, kids.
Andrew Gluchov (@StatBoyDrew): It was a matter of time. The nature of the business is to eventually move towards the blue blood schools. I’m surprised White didn’t move sooner, but I think that speaks more about his love for UCF than anything else. Lord knows he had opportunities. White left UCF in a much better place than when he got here from multiple fronts. The sports teams are performing and had multiple seasons where every team had a winning record. The academics continue to set the bar for UCF’s peers. Facilities continue to improve and so does fundraising. White brought the total package to UCF and we should be thankful for the work he did.
2) What are your thoughts on who could replace White as the new AD?
Jeff: I have no idea who should, but I do think that their job will be harder in a different way than Danny’s was when he got here. UCF was a damaged brand in 2015, so All Danny had to do what exactly what he set out to do, and let the results say the rest. The next person’s challenge will not only be to continue building that brand Danny established, but figuring out a way to advance it further. That is no easy task.
Jeremy: I think they’ll eventually remove the interim tag from Scott Carr. Some familiarity with a regime that had a lot of success is important, even if he may not be the most qualified candidate on the market.
Eric: Interesting to see if Scott Carr ends up keeping it or if they go outside. Will it be someone with ties to President Cartwright, Danny White and or UCF? From outside of UCF, I like Louisiana’s Bryan Maggard and New Mexico’s Eddie Nunez. Both have helped raise donations to respective schools and facilities. Maggard been very similar to Danny White and in help make Louisiana strong programs in all sports. Nunez has that similar success background from his 14 years as Deputy AD at LSU.
Brian: I’ll just leave this here:
Andrew: I laugh and just say to bring on his brother, Brian, from Florida Atlantic. Looking at FAU’s growth under the other White has shown some parallels to what Danny did at UCF.
3) How do you feel about Josh Heupel’s quick departure?
Jeff: I was more surprised about this than White’s departure. But, just like with White, money talks, and SEC schools have a LOT of it. All in all, I think it may have been the best decision for everyone involved, and while I see some players are not happy about how it’s handled, I don’t think there’s a way any coach can do this without pissing at least somebody off.
Jeremy: Like White, it’s tough to turn down a job that offers as much as Tennessee’s job does. We knew this was coming when Heupel got here. We knew he’d be here for 2-4 seasons and a Power 5 school would take him back. I think it’s easier to criticize Heupel because he’s more of a prominent face than White. He’s the bad guy when the team regresses three straight seasons. I don’t know how long he’s known about the Tennessee gig, but if he knew for longer than a day or two, I wish he’d give the players more of a heads up.
Eric: It is a win-win for all parties. For Heupel, it’s a Head Coaching job in SEC with low expectations at Tennessee because of the struggles they have had. He can make them competitive and interesting by scoring lots of points as long as the Vols don’t get crushed by NCAA sanctions. It’s a win for UCF as this was likely headed for a divorce eventually and the reaction from former players and fans on social media showed that maybe this will be for the best for everyone.
Brian: Maybe it was too quick? Like, did he actually tell/talk to/call/text Dillon Gabriel before he left? A couple of players, including Gabriel, indicated that they heard the news first via social media, and Gabriel lamented in a quickly deleted IG post that Heup never notifed him. I’d like to get to the bottom of that, but I digress.
I’m fine with it. It does the UCF Football program no favors in the short term since spring practice is a little more than a month away, and the team currently doesn’t have a coach nor an AD to hire said coach. But in going to Tennessee, Heupel gets a huge pay raise and the opportunity to find out if he can cut it as a head coach at the highest level in college football. Again, challenge yourselves.
Andrew: Heupel was caught in a tough spot. He no longer had White to protect him and with a new AD coming in, anything less than a good 2021 would likely end his tenure at UCF. He got out when the getting was good. In the long run, I think both sides benefit from the split.
4) Describe Josh Heupel’s legacy with the UCF football program.
Jeff: The way I describe it is Scott Frost laid the foundation, put up the frames and the drywall, put on the roof, and made UCF’s house move-in ready. Josh Heupel painted the walls, laid down some floors, and made it livable. UCF’s transition into the 21st Century’s model on-field product - especially offensively - is solidified now, and there’s no going back.
Jeremy: Heupel was given an impossible task when he came here — to keep a perfect team perfect. He nearly did that in year 1, but eventually his lack of coaching discipline bled into crucial games UCF should have won in years 2 & 3. He’ll be known as a coach that failed to discipline his team. Here’s to hoping Heupel learns from this in Knoxville and that the guy that comes after Heupel won’t repeat those mistakes.
Eric: It will depend how Heupel’s career goes from here. If he has a great run at Tennessee, people will say, “Hey remember when he was at UCF?” He becomes a footnote if the next head coach has big success at UCF and if he fails at Tennessee. Ironically Heupel basically helped cement Scott Frost’s legacy at UCF more than he did with his own legacy at UCF.
Brian: I have been racking my brain on this topic for the past few days and I have come to the conclusion that I have no earthly idea. Let me see if I can talk my way into something here. The 2018 was a complete success as Heupel kept the ball rolling after Scott Frost left and led this program to another undefeated regular season, another conference title and another New Year’s Six bowl. BUT he did it all with Frost’s players, so how much credit does he deserve?
The Knights went 9-3 in 2019, and Heupel was the target of an unwarranted deluge of criticism, as if 9-3 is an affront toward God. But that’s because everyone compared Heupel’s successes and failures to that of Scott Frost, who authored the most successful two-year turnaround in the history of college football and didn’t fail a single damn time during his second and final season. He left his replacement, Heupel, with the uneviable task of trying to build upon that, but how can you go up from literally the greatest achievement this program can possibly attain? Thus, anything less feels like a letdown. That’s wholly unfair, but that is situation Heupel entered.
This past season wasn’t very good — 6-4 with a blowout loss in the Boca Raton Bowl. BUT this season was so screwed up from the start, with the sudden shutdown of spring football, the lack of a structured offseason workout schedule, 10 players opting out, having to change the ways you carry even the most simple team functions, etc. In all, I view 2020 as a success for UCF just because it got to play 10 games as scheduled without interruptions. But again, since it was another step down for 2017-18, Heupel was seen as just not good enough. By the time he left for Knoxville, there was a sizable contingent of the UCF fan base that was happy to see him gone.
If you judged Heupel on his own merits, you would look at his 28-8 record and the development of Dillon Gabriel as give him his just plaudits. That should be his legacy: He won a good amount of games, kept this offense among the nation’s best and developed its next star quarterback. That’s not bad.
However, so many can’t help themselves and will immediately think, “Yeah, but he wasn’t Frost.” That, I suspect, will be his legacy. Ultimately, Heupel’s failures and losses will make this head coaching job that much easier for his successor, because that person won’t be judged against perfection.
Andrew: The legacy will be largely forgettable over time as long as the next coach doesn’t continue in a negative trajectory. Obviously, it’s fresh right now, but there isn’t anything special that’s going to stand out like with O’Leary or Frost. We know Heupel wasn’t Plan A at UCF and certainly wasn’t at Tennessee. His legacy will be probably viewed as a Plan B guy who tried to fill in for Scott Frost.
5) Which head coach would be your ideal replacement for the team?
Jeff: Someone who will keep the up-tempo offense, keep recruiting speed, and most importantly, earn and keep the trust of the players. That’s an area where one could say Josh Heupel failed, where Scott Frost succeeded. As we have clearly seen on social media, the players’ reactions to the news bear this out: let’s just say they are considerably less devastated than when Frost left.
Jeremy: ..... .....
Eric: I like Rhett Lashlee who is the Miami Hurricanes Offensive coordinator and was the OC at SMU and Auburn prior to Miami. The home run hire scenario to me would be Louisiana’s Head Coach Billy Napier. He turned the Cajuns into a top 25 team in short time and has ties to Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban. I would be ok with Jeff Lebby as long as Kevin Smith was guaranteed to be coming with him as I would like to see Kevin Smith become UCF’s Head Coach when Lebby eventually leaves for a Big 12 or P5 HC job after 3-4 years at UCF. I believe Smith is the one guy that has a chance to be a Knights Head Coach for a long time that some UCF fans are carving for. A promotion to OC at UCF in Lebby’s staff could be the begging of that projection. In the end I think the next head coach will likely have ties and connection to the new AD.
Brian: Someone who keeps #UCFast alive. An offensive mind who will assist Gabriel in his final seasons. The players that are here were all recruited to run an up-tempo system; you can’t go back to a ball-control offense. Also:
Andrew: I’ve always been a Lance Leipold guy, but I would be totally cool with Billy Napier, Tony Elliott, or Jeff Lebby. Leipole and Napier have taken bad programs and made them respectable. Elliott has an outstanding track record and Clemson and Lebby is a player favorite from his time as an assistant under Heupel. Based on the timeline of UCF having to do a coaching search, I think Elliott or Lebby is more likely since neither are head coaches. Maybe UCF will shock everyone and bring in a grizzled vet like Gus Malzahn.