Josh Heupel turned around Tennessee in year one. Jeff Lebby looks to do the same for Mississippi State football

Josh Heupel inherited a total rebuild in Knoxville in 2021, but immediately turned things around. Jeff Lebby's Mississippi State football program is in a similar spot in 2024. He'll look to do the same.
Mississippi State Spring Football Game
Mississippi State Spring Football Game / Justin Ford/GettyImages
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What situation did Josh Heupel inherit at Tennessee?

To say the situation Josh Heupel inherited in Knoxville was dire would be an understatement.

The 2020 Volunteers were a disaster, going 3-7 with those losses coming by an average of 19.7 points. Their offense managed just 21.5 PPG, and they gave up 30.1 PPG defensively with one of the worst passing defenses in the country. There's no way to describe them other than being a bad football team.

Things got worse after the season. Recruiting violations led to Jeremy Pruitt's firing. The NCAA was now camped-out in Knoxville, and 35 players transferred out, including the likes of LB Henry To'o To'o, RB Eric Gray, and RT Wanya Morris. And somehow, Tennessee had to hire a coach under these circumstances.

They landed on UCF's Josh Heupel, a move many believed was a case of Tennessee getting the only coach willing to take the job. While many expected him to bring some offense, there was no confidence in Heupel actually being the guy who'd get the Vols winning again. He was merely viewed as a stop-gap to settle things in the midst of troubling times.

With all that said, expectations for the Vols in 2021 weren't actually to bottom-out. There were enough "gimmes" on the schedule that prognosticators wouldn't rule out potentially reaching a bowl game. But no one saw this being a genuinely solid team, and a losing season was deemed the far more likely outcome by most. Certainly, no one saw seven regular season wins and overall competitiveness in every game coming.

But that's what happened.