ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg revealed his grades for college football’s first-year head coaches this week and he thought pretty highly of Josh Heupel’s first season at Tennessee.

Rittenberg initially gave the Vols’ hire of Heupel a “C”.

Nearly a year later, Rittenberg is giving Heupel an “A-“.

Here’s what Rittenberg had to say about Heupel’s first season in Knoxville.

Tennessee had several coaches pass on the job before turning to Heupel, who came in with a strong record (28-8) but came off a down year at UCF. He also had only two years of SEC coordinator experience, and took over only in late January. But Heupel energized Tennessee’s downtrodden offense and produced a team that has Vols fans genuinely excited about the future again. Tennessee had the SEC’s No. 3 scoring offense and No. 4 total offense, winning three conference games by 24 points or more.

Despite a tough schedule featuring Alabama and Ole Miss in crossovers, Tennessee won three of its final four games. Quarterback Hendon Hookerblossomed under Heupel and offensive coordinator Alex Golesh, completing 69% of his passes with 26 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Recruiting remains an area to watch, but Heupel has delivered offense and a new sense of excitement to Knoxville, despite taking over under some difficult conditions.

Heupel was tied for the highest grade among Power-5 coaches with Illinois’ Bret Bielema and South Carolina’s Shane Beamer.

The lowest grade of any new hire was given to Arkansas State head coach Butch Jones. Rittenberg gave the former Vols head coach a “D-” for his performance this season in Jonesboro. The Red Wolves finished 2-10 in Jones’ first year leading the program.

Gus Malzahn, who replaced Heupel at UCF, received a “B-” after leading the Knights to an 8-4 record this season. Rittenberg initially gave the Malzahn hire an “A-“.

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