Josh Heupel hasn’t set foot on Owen Field in almost ten years. However, the former Oklahoma assistant and quarterback who won a national title will be back where it all started in less than four months, this time on the opposing sideline.

This autumn, Oklahoma will host Heupel’s Tennessee team as part of Oklahoma’s maiden SEC schedule. On September 21, the Vols will officially play the Sooners in their first-ever SEC conference game when they travel to Norman.

In addition to being a historic occasion for Oklahoma’s football program, Heupel will experience a sense of comeback as he played quarterback for the Sooners for two seasons before joining the staff for nine more, serving as co-offensive coordinator for four of those seasons.

Heupel responded, “It’ll be unique to go back and play inside of that stadium being on the other sideline,” when asked about his impending return trip to Oklahoma on Wednesday at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida.

Heupel is in his fourth year as Tennessee’s head coach. In his first three seasons, he led the team to a 27-12 record and finished above.500 every time. This includes the Vols’ 11-win season in 2022 and their 9-4 campaign the previous season, during which they placed 17th in the AP poll.

Heupel’s first head coaching opportunity came at UCF, where he went 28-8 in three seasons before taking over at Tennessee. There, he spent two seasons (2020 and 2021) mentoring Dillon Gabriel, the quarterback who is now gone from Oklahoma.

After finishing his playing career, Heupel joined Oklahoma as a graduate assistant coach in 2004. Heupel, a 1999 signing who had previously transferred from junior college, led Oklahoma as the team’s starting quarterback for two seasons under Bob Stoops. During his two seasons, he completed 63.2% of his throws for 6,852 yards, 50 touchdowns, and 29 interceptions. The most recent of the program’s seven claimed national titles, he led the Sooners to the 2000 BCS national title. That same year, he finished second in the Heisman Trophy competition and was chosen in the sixth round of the 2001 NFL Draft.

Heupel was Mike Stoops’ tight ends coach at Arizona after serving as a graduate assistant at his alma mater for one season. The next year, he went back to OU to take on the role of quarterbacks coach. It was there that he helped Sam Bradford during his 2008 Heisman campaign. Heupel was promoted to co-offensive coordinator and play-caller at the conclusion of the 2010 campaign. Heupel was fired, nevertheless, because the school decided not to renew his contract, after the Sooners’ 8-5 season in 2014 saw them finish 85th nationally in passing offense, with quarterback Trevor Knight completing just 56.6% of his throws for 2,300 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.

With the tough choice to fire an offensive coordinator who was among the best players in the program and his only quarterback to win a national title, it was what Stoops has since called his “worst day” as Oklahoma’s head coach. After being hired by Tennessee, Heupel stated that his termination at Oklahoma gave him a chance to reevaluate his goals as an offensive play-caller.

This fall, when Tennessee takes on Oklahoma in the SEC, the 46-year-old coach will make his first trip back to his alma university since his abrupt departure. According to him, his father, Ken, and sister, Andrea, still reside in Oklahoma. The Oklahoman reported earlier this month that his mother, Cindy, passed away.

“For me, for my coaching career to playing career, a lot of great relationships, a lot of great memories,” Heupel stated. “A great deal of individuals have contributed much to my development as a player and as a man, as well as to my success in this field. I still keep in touch with a lot of the wonderful people and memories I have with.”