CFB: Heupel again calling plays a decade later
AP College Football Writer
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Josh Heupel was known as a heady quarterback, enough so that Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops gave him loose reins in running the offense.
It worked out pretty well for the Sooners: They won their seventh national title in 2000 with Heupel calling many of the shots.
A decade later, Heupel gets another shot at being in charge in a big game.
Made co-offensive coordinator with Jay Norvell after Kevin Wilson was hired as head coach at Indiana, Heupel will be the play caller for No. 9 Oklahoma against No. 25 Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.
In a way, it’ll feel just like old times.
“I think playing quarterback in an offensive system like I did – my junior year I probably checked 50 percent of the plays – is helpful,” Heupel said. “Certainly, you’re going to learn while you’re on the job, but you’re going to continue to get better and those type of things I was involved in the past make this a little bit more comfortable transition.”
Ever since he was plucked from Snow Junior College by former offensive coordinator Mike Leach, Heupel has always seemed comfortable, an unflappable presence wherever he’s been.
Known as a coach-on-the-field type of quarterback, Heupel had a superb stint in Norman, leading the Sooners to the 2000 national title. He was The Associated Press player of the year and runner-up to Heisman Trophy Chris Weinke of Florida State that same year, and ended his career among the top three in school history in yards, touchdowns and completions despite playing just two seasons.
After a brief attempt at an NFL career, Heupel returned to Oklahoma to serve as a graduate assistant from 2003-05, then moved on to his first full-time coaching job, working with the tight ends for Stoops’ brother, Mike, at Arizona in 2005.
When Stoops needed a quarterbacks coach, Heupel agreed to come back the next season, and helped develop Sam Bradford into a Heisman Trophy winner and the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NFL draft.
Now 32, Heupel gets a chance on the big stage, calling the shots for Oklahoma’s offense Saturday night in the next step in a path that could eventually lead to him becoming a head coach somewhere.
“Josh is the same guy,” Stoops said. “Very competitive, but very smart and wise in how he played. I’m sure he’ll do that as a coordinator, too.”
Heupel has an always-in-control image, fueled by his laid-back countenance and even-keel speech with a hint of drawl. That doesn’t mean there aren’t times when he doesn’t let loose on his players.
He is, after all, a coach and still a fiery competitive, so if someone needs a little extra, uh, inspiration, Heupel’s going to provide it.
“He’s very much like a quarterback. He’s very focused and intent,” Norvell said. “He has his eyes on the big picture and pretty even keel, but there are times when you need to challenge people and he has an excellent way of doing that. As coaches, we have to do that at time, keep them focused on the things that are important. He’s going to be all right when it comes to that.”
Heupel’s focus since being promoted has been on making sure the Sooners have the right game plan and his players are ready physically and mentally to end their five-game losing streak in BCS bowl games.
Heupel doesn’t plan to change much in Oklahoma’s offense – one of the reason Stoops gave him the promotion – and will be able to lean on Wilson, who will spend one final game with the Sooners before heading to Bloomington.
This is Heupel’s first chance at being the one to call the plays as a coach and no doubt he’ll reach back to when he did it as a player, which wasn’t all that long ago.
“I feel far removed from it,” Heupel said. “You might not think it, but I think being able to get ourselves in a rhythm early in the ballgame, make some positive things happen will allow me to get in a comfort level.”
He’s done this once before already, so it shouldn’t be a problem.