10. Seth Littrell
Recently fired after seven years as head coach of the North Texas Mean Green, Seth Littrell and Josh Heupel have never worked together. However, they share similar ties, which would make Littrell a perfect fit to coach tight ends with Tennessee football this year.
Littrell coached tight ends under Mike Stoops with the Arizona Wildcats in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Heupel himself coached tight ends under Stoops at Arizona in 2005. As a result, there’s a bit of familiarity between the two, and Littrell’s experience would make him a great candidate to fill this void.
9. Mitch Militello
Heupel has already promoted from within twice to fill his only two staff vacancies. Last year, he promoted Kelsey Pope from offensive analyst to Tennessee football wide receivers coach, and Pope turned Jalin Hyatt into a Biletnikoff winner. Then he promoted Joey Halzle to offensive coordinator this year.
Why not do it again? Mitch Militello is another offensive analyst for the Vols. He works primarily with quarterbacks, but it shouldn’t be that hard to transition over to working with tight ends. Given the experience he has in Heupel’s system and with the players, it’s a move that could work out.
8. Alec Abeln
Another offensive analyst, Alec Abeln is a former offensive linemen and works more with them. However, offensive line to tight ends coach is an even smoother transition than working with quarterbacks and moving over to tight ends. As a result, Abeln could be a great hire for UT.
Abeln played for Heupel with the Missouri Tigers, so he has even more experience in this system. It’s clear Heupel values stability, and even if there’s a change in the positions he would be working with, he would certainly bring that to the table coaching this unit.
7. Kody Cook
Of the offensive analysts on Tennessee football, Kody Cook brings the smoothest transition to coaching tight ends. That’s because of his playing background with the Kansas State Wildcats. He was primarily a receiver but also played running back and even quarterback.
That versatility makes him most qualified to coach any part of the offense, and tight end is a versatile position to coach. A junior college walk-on in 2013, Cook became an All Big 12 receiver by 2015. He saw action as a receiver, a runner and a quarterback, so he should be able to coach tight ends.
6. Luke Wells
In 2015, Heupel and Luke Wells worked together as co-offensive coordinators of the Utah State Aggies. Wells was hired by the Tulsa Golden Hurricane as tight ends coach under Philip Montgomery last year. However, his current standing could be up in the air with Kevin Wilson taking over.
Given that and the prestige of Tennessee football in general, Wells would obviously jump ship to rejoin Heupel. His familiarity with what Heupel does and his experience coaching tight ends would seem to make him a perfect fit with the Vols, so watch out for this name.
5. Trooper Taylor
By far the most important priority for a the Vols’ next tight ends coach is the ability to recruit. Why not give Trooper Taylor a call? Currently the Duke Blue Devils running backs coach, Taylor was running backs coach for UT in 2004 and 2005 and then receivers coach in 2006 and 2007, and he always got the max production out of his players.
In 2004, the Vols had two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in history. Two years later, Robert Meachem set the single-season school record for receiving yards in a season, one that still stands. Sure, Taylor has never coached tight ends, but it can’t be too hard after coaching running backs and receivers. He’s also an elite recruiter.
4. Darrell Wyatt
Speaking of elite recruiters, Darrell Wyatt is another guy who has never coached tight ends but has flirted with it. He has experience as a passing game coordinator, an offensive coordinator and a receivers coach. Right now, he is the receivers coach with the Boston College Eagles.
However, Heupel is familiar with Wyatt, as he was the UCF Knights’ receivers coach from 2018 to 2021. It’s also worth noting that Wyatt has been a recruiting coordinator or co-recruiting coordinator for the Houston Cougars and Texas Longhorns, so he brings recruiting prowess and familiarity with the Heupel offense.
3. Jon Cooper
Why not just bring back a former tight ends coach under Heupel, this time with Tennessee football? Jon Cooper, who played offensive line for the Oklahoma Sooners when Heupel was quarterbacks coach there, served as tight ends coach under Heupel with UCF in 2018 and 2019.
After spending last year as an offensive analyst at OU, Cooper just became offensive line coach for the North Texas Mean Green. You don’t think he would leave that job to rejoin Heupel? Of course he would. A guy who is familiar coaching tight ends in Heupel’s system when he had great success at UCF is an obvious choice.
2. Joe Jon Finley
Speaking of somebody familiar with coaching tight ends in Heupel’s offense, Joe Jon Finley is the most qualified coach of all to do that. Finley is the current associate head coach and tight ends and H-backs coach for OU. However, that may be a sinking ship under Brent Venables. For his own future, he would want to rejoin Heupel.
From 2016 to 2018, Finley was tight ends coach for the Missouri Tigers, and that includes the two years Heupel was there in 2016 and 2017. He also worked under Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby in 2020, and Lebby was Heupel’s OC in 2018 and 2019 so there are plenty of connections here.
1. Jason Witten
Jason Witten may not want do do this. He’s 40 years old and currently coaching high school football. It may be too late to climb the ladder to be a college football head coach, and if you don’t want to do that, you probably don’t want all the work that comes with being a college position coach if you’re a multi-millionaire already.
However, if Witten is interested, he’d obviously be a huge pickup. Witten is a transcendent tight end, as he’s a future hall-of-famer because he was an elite blocking and pass-catching tight end. As a result, he can coach all aspects of the game. His leadership qualities as a player and current experience as a head coach show he could do it.
Then there is the recruiting factor. Obviously, a superstar like Witten who only recently retired could sell Tennessee football on his name alone. Add in the fact that he played for the Vols, and he’s the one player who doesn’t need any familiarity with Heupel for this hire to work out.