Heupel brings much-needed energy to previously lethargic offense

New offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who won a national championship with Oklahoma in 2000, strives to bring the Tigers’ offense up from the basement of FBS offenses.
MU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel speaks with the media following practice on Aug. 23.

When Josh Heupel walked into a Missouri football meeting for the first time, he didn’t hold back.

Heupel, the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, passionately introduced himself by yelling and screaming, stunning many players, including offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton.

“We were like, ‘This guy’s here to work,’” Pendleton said. “He’s a fiery dude.”

Missouri needs the fiery Heupel to come in and light a flame under the belly of an offense that averaged 13.6 points per game in 2015, which ranked 127th out of 128 FBS teams.

It will be difficult — extremely difficult — to get the Tiger offense to the front half of the league in scoring this season. But if anyone has the energy to do it, it’s Heupel. He typically came in at 7 a.m. to work out despite a tough day ahead coaching two-a-day practices. During these practices, Heupel brought the same passion and energy he displayed the first time he met the team, sophomore quarterback Marvin Zanders said.

“He is amped up,” Zanders said. “There is never a moment when he is dull.”

Heupel’s time as a collegiate athlete was also anything but dull. As a quarterback at Oklahoma, he led the Sooners to a National Championship in 2000 while earning All-American recognition, AP Player of the Year and Quarterback of the Year. Heupel also finished second in Heisman Trophy voting that same year.

As a coach, he spent time at Arizona, Utah State and Oklahoma, where he helped quarterback Sam Bradford win the Heisman Trophy in 2008.

Now, he’s coaching Zanders and Drew Lock, whom Zanders has competed with during the offseason. Lock, a sophomore, said Heupel’s background is something you cannot ignore.

“There is no way in the world I am going to second-guess this man,” Lock said.

Heupel arrived at a perfect time for the two signal callers. Lock and Zanders are talented but raw. Lock struggled when he started the final eight games as a true freshman for Missouri in 2015, tossing four touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Heupel’s experience at quarterback should help not only Lock, but also Zanders, who will likely see the field as well this season.

“He can feel for you and has a better perspective for what you are saying,” Zanders said.

With all of the coaching staff changes Missouri went through in the offseason, Pendleton feels assured by having Heupel lead the offense.

“He has your back and he is not going to do anything he wouldn’t want done to himself,” Pendleton said.

That’s not to say Heupel pampers his players, though. Tight end Sean Culkin said he is serious and work-oriented when he needs to be. Culkin added that he is glad Heupel isn’t someone who is “your buddy all the time.”

“I feel like when you have a coach like that, by the time you leave the program, you won’t have a certain level of respect that you should have, a fear you should have of your coach because you respect him,” Culkin said.

Heupel’s combination of seriousness, competitiveness and what Culkin called a “cool personality” has pushed players while earning their respect.

“You want to give him your best because he demands that,” Culkin said.

Heupel also strives to give his players his best, leading them with a consistent example.

“He is the same guy every day, no matter if he is sick or having trouble at home, he comes in every day with the same mindset: to get better and be prepared,” Zanders said.

To come in with this mindset requires the energy Heupel brings with him to work every day. It is that same intensity and exuberance that will give life to a Missouri offense that many expect will hold the Tigers back in 2016.

“[His energy] is what our offense needed,” Zanders said. “It is going to work wonders, and everyone will see it.”

Edited by Peter Baugh | pbaugh@themaneater.com

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