The Scott Frost era is out and the Josh Heupel era is in. UCF moved quickly in its latest coaching search, as athletic director Danny White named Heupel the new coach less than four days after Frost officially announced that he was leaving for Nebraska.
Heupel, who comes to Orlando after spending two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Missouri, said accepting the position with the Knights means he is fulfilling a “lifelong dream.” He earned a degree in business marketing from the University of Oklahoma, but that was what he considered his backup plan. Plan No. 1 was always to be a head football coach. Why? It runs in the family.
“I’m the son of a coach,” Heupel said during his introductory press conference on Tuesday afternoon. “From the time I was five years old, I was riding in the car at 5:30 in the morning with him, going to two-a-days.”
The 39-year-old is the 11th head coach in program history. While interim coach Troy Walters and the former staff are the ones preparing the No. 12 Knights for their upcoming Peach Bowl matchup with No. 7 Auburn, Heupel said he will be in the stadium to watch his new team on New Year’s Day. Below are some of the other highlights from his introductory press conference.
Question: Have you had a chance to look at some of the pieces that will be returning for you on the offensive side of the ball with McKenzie Milton at quarterback and some of the running backs and wide receivers, and does that excite you?
Answer: “It excites everybody. There are special players coming back. When you go through the roster and look at it, there’s a handful of players that are going to be graduating and playing their last game in the Peach Bowl, but for the most part, the nucleus of this team is coming back on both sides of the ball. [We have a] great quarterback coming back, he’s put up huge numbers, he’s played really smart football, made plays with his arm and his legs, that’s special. If you’re going to have a championship season, you’re going to have to have a championship-caliber quarterback and it’s always great to have that piece coming back.”
Q: Do you feel any pressure about taking over a 12-0 team?
A: “There’s pressure, absolutely. But there’s no pressure greater than that that I will have already put on myself. I’ve played on big stages, I’ve played in big games and I’ve coached in them too. At the end of the day, when you walk across the white lines it’s all the same. I’m going to be consistent and true to who I am in how I interact with the players. We’re going to build this program from where it’s at and take it to higher heights. But I think it’s special to have the opportunity to take over a program that’s currently 12-0 and has the chance to go play in a great New Year’s Day bowl game. I think there’s a lot of positives to this situation.”
Q: Do you plan on retaining any of the current staff and what was the reaction from the players when you were introduced?
A: “We’ll have to evaluate that as I get further into today and the coming days. I haven’t had a chance to meet with any of the current staff. The reception inside the locker room was special. Any time there’s a transition, there’s always uncertainty. The players are looking for ‘what is this next coach going to be about?’ I was able to go through the traits and characteristics that we’re gonna try to instill in them. I talked to the environment that we’re gonna try to create when they walk through the door every single day.”
Q: What does it mean to you to get this head coaching job?
A: “I told everyone in the room when I was interviewing, I got a degree in business marketing. That was the fallback plan. From the time I’ve been little, I’ve always wanted to be a football coach. I love the game, I love the mental strategy, the Xs and Os of it, but more than anything, I love the relationships that you form inside of the game. Football is the greatest teaching platform for life, in my opinion. Because there’s so many ups and downs, it’s the ultimate team game. I love it. My mom and dad, they’re 62, 63 right now. They still travel to every ball game. They’re still in it. My dad’s gonna be on the sidelines at every ball game. And he’ll probably give me a laundry list of things he would’ve liked to be a little bit different after the ball game. That’s what he’s been doing so far, so I don’t expect that to change. I didn’t just wanna be a head coach anywhere. I wanted to be somewhere where you can chase and go after championships on a consistent basis. And I think that’s just what’s so unique about this place. It’s so young as a program, but it sits in such a fertile area. The vision of the university and the administration gives this place an opportunity to be a championship-caliber program year in and year out. I really truly believe this is one of, if not the most elite jobs in America.”
Q: What kind of offense do you plan on running?
A: “If you’ve watched us [at Missouri] the last couple of years, we’re a no-huddle, fast-paced offense as well. I think that’s the style that they want, that’s the style that’s true to me. That’s how I want to play. I think it’s an exciting brand of football, but I also think you dictate to the defense what’s gonna happen instead of being reactionary. I met with some of the players today and I believe in this: there’s a lot of ways to play a fast, up-tempo offense. The 11 guys that are going to play at a championship level are the 11 guys that are going to need to be out there on the football field. You fit what you do to your personnel. I don’t have a set card of plays. That’s not how I operate. It’s about taking the talent that we have that’s going to play at a championship level and putting an offense together.”