On the eve of his first-ever pre-season fall camp practice as the University of Tennessee football coach, Josh Heupel spoke about one subject more than his impending quarterback derby or his frenetic, uptempo offense.
Trust. It's been the seminal focus of Heupel since he accepted the rather steep challenge in late January of taking over a downtrodden Volunteers' program staring down NCAA sanctions from UT Chancellor Donde Plowman's public admission of more than 50 Level I recruiting violations, wracked by Transfer Portal departures and seeking to climb back from three losing seasons in the past four years.
More than a dozen times on Tuesday, Heupel discussed the element of trust in his program – from coaches building it in players, and vice versa; to the eventual starting quarterback earning that honor in large part because of his ability to instill trust in his players.
On Wednesday, in that first preseason session before the Sept. 2 opener against Bowling Green inside Neyland Stadium, Heupel began the “lead-up” process to begin cementing that trust.
“End results happen, because you fail in the lead-up to it,” Heupel said. “Everybody got me? We fail on a Saturday, it's not the Saturday; it's the lead-up to it.”
Heupel then drilled down on the oft-overlooked element of practice: the educational, instructional component.
“Every one of these coaches is teachers,” Heupel said. “It's fundamentals, it's technique. It's a six-inch step, it's hat-placement, it's hands. That takes you where you want to go.
“You have to be willing to be coached on the little things. You have to learn to pay attention to the little things to take us where we want to go.”
Heupel related a specific instance of Wednesday's opening practice being part of the journey to the result.
“You can lose it, before you can win it on day one,” Heupel said in his post-practice press conference. “The amount of injuries that take place early in training camps and being conscious of building these guys as we go through training camp. We tried to keep guys in short spaces today with how we did some of our drills, even with some of our installing.
“Obviously, (players) aren’t in shoulder pads either, so you are just being conscious of that. As you go through training camp, (it is) teaching them good habits. It’s the little things that matter, and I made a point during a drill today, someone was worried about the end result; it wasn’t positive. But, it’s about the little things that take you to the end result we need to be worried about. We are continuing to teach these guys how we want to react in adverse situations.”