The hiring of Josh Heupel as the Vols’ new head coach means the media access at Tennessee will likely be changing.
Media access under previous head coach Jeremy Pruitt wasn’t great. Assistants rarely spoke to reporters (players spoke to reporters weekly, but Tennessee was kind of picky about who they let speak), which left mainly Pruitt as the sole voice of the program (something he picked up from Nick Saban).
Practice access, pre COVID-19, was also extremely limited. Reporters basically got to see some stretching and a few individual drills before they were kicked out for the day.
Essentially, there wasn’t much to glean from those practices.
So what can we expect under Heupel?
According to folks who covered Heupel at UCF, the access will be more generous in some areas, and about the same in other areas.
Heupel’s assistants at UCF spoke on a weekly basis (depending on who was requested by reporters). Players could also be requested and UCF generally would meet those requests. This is very similar to how things were done under Butch Jones at Tennessee.
I think assistants speaking to the media is extremely important. It prevents certain narratives from shaping and it allows different viewpoints of the same situations to be heard. It’s a win-win for everyone.
As far as practice goes, you shouldn’t expect much more than what reporters were allowed to see under Pruitt.
At UCF, Heupel allowed a few open periods at the start of practice (stretching and individual drills), before closing it to the media. These practice viewing times are mainly for photography purposes, which is why you shouldn’t pay too much attention to reporters who say a certain quarterback looks the best. I’ve been to plenty of these practices — trust me when I say that you really don’t see enough to make a solid judgment on a quarterback (they all look decent throwing against air).
And when it comes to Heupel, don’t expect him to reveal too much to the media. He fulfills his media obligations, but he tends to say a lot without saying much at all (he doesn’t reveal much about injuries at all, either).
The media coverage will certainly be better under Heupel, but there’s still a level of secrecy that fans/reporters will get from the staff. I guess that’s just how it goes in college football these days.
(Note: This is how the practice coverage was handled at UCF before COVID-19 arrived on the scene. COVID-19 will very likely impact the coverage in the spring, such as no reporters allowed in person at practice.)
Featured image via Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports