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SEC photo by Jimmie Mitchell / Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel made his Southeastern Conference Media Days debut earlier this week in Hoover, Alabama.

HOOVER, Ala. — Tennessee first-year football coach Josh Heupel took some time earlier this week to discuss life both on and off the field during his first six months with the Volunteers.

Q: Have you had the chance to visit Chattanooga yet?

A: "I have not been down to Chattanooga yet. June was a crazy month with recruiting, and we got up to the Smokies for a couple of days with the wife (Dawn) and kids (Hannah and Jace) and had a blast up there. I'm looking forward to traveling the state here as things slow down at some point.

"We'll be down there this fall in recruiting, or it will be soon after that in January or February. I'm looking forward to getting down there."

Q: You've just come from coaching in Orlando, so you've picked some good getaway areas, haven't you?

A: "I can't imagine two better areas. We knew Knoxville was going to be special and unique, but I didn't understand how great of a college city that it really is. It's got national and worldwide headquarters and a tremendous downtown area, and the ability to go out and hike or jump on a boat on the river or on some lakes — you're 45 minutes from hiking and rafting in the Smokies. You've got Gatlinburg.

"We've already played lots of mini golf as a family, and we've taken an alpine coaster. It's been all things Tennessee, and it's been lots of fun."

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Q: I understand you have a golfer in the family and that it's not you. Is that correct?

A: "It is not me. The people who have been on staffs with me know that to get me on the golf course on a consistent basis is tough to do, but I'll do anything for my little daughter. She is super athletic and can do about anything she wants, and she has really gotten into golf the last couple of summers.

"She plays between 6 and 9 each night, and she can really knock the cover off the ball. It's pretty impressive."

Q: That's obviously good daddy-daughter time, but how much does that help you unwind?

A: "It's awesome. It's a busy profession, and you spend a lot of time pouring into kids who are blood-related to you, but they aren't yours. If you aren't spending that time with your own kids, then that's an issue. Our coaches' kids will be involved in a lot of things as we move forward, because those experiences for kids growing up in coaching families matter."

Q: You had an idea in January of what the Tennessee job might be like. Has anything from your initial perception changed?

A: "There were obviously unknowns, but the group of guys we have in the locker room and their willingness to buy in and change and grow — we're an unfinished product, but I think about where we started and where we are today, and we've come a long way together. We've got a long way to go, but I love being around that group of men."

Q: You are implementing morning practices. What is the advantage to that?

A: "I think it provides great structure to the day, because you build off that block in the morning. Your kids are up early — not at the crack of dawn, but they're up early. You block out that time as far as the infrastructure of your day, and once football is over, it's done with, and your body has a chance to recuperate.

"You then get to your classes in the afternoon and get your study halls done, and there is no wasted time sitting around during the course of the day. They're efficient with their entire day."

Q: How have you discussed the COVID vaccine with your players?

A: "With education and with what the medical professionals are saying. You have real conversations with players, and you let them ask questions about the things they might be hearing about it. You try to get to the truth, and you try to get them to understand that this is about long-term health.

"I've been vaccinated. My wife has, too, and one of my kids who is eligible is as well. You just want your players to move forward with information."

Q: How much did your two years as Missouri's offensive coordinator (2016-17) help you as far as trying to tackle the Southeastern Conference?

A: "This is the most competitive environment in college football, and that's why you want to be in it. You get to coach against the best and play against the best. The two years there gives us experience in this league from a schematic standpoint and a matchup standpoint and also on the recruiting side of it."

Q: How else have you escaped from football since taking the job?

A: "I play card games at night with the kids. When we get the chance, the four of us are doing something all the time."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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