Now Heupel is in the fold. Within hours of signing his contract, the new tight ends coach was on an airplane to begin recruiting. Although the 2005 class was almost complete, the staff had him meet some of the key offensive recruit and get a jump start on the 2006 class.
"I've been getting my feet wet," Heupel said. "I was late in the recruiting process. Most of our kids had already committed, but I made a couple home visits, but probably more junior recruiting."
Heupel replaces Steve Spurrier Jr., who took a job on his father's staff at South Carolina. Like Spurrier, this will be Heupel's first experience working with tight ends. He was a collegiate quarterback and was a grad assistant at Oklahoma last season.
While his main responsibilities will be with the Wildcat tight ends it wouldn't be a shock to see him interact with the quarterbacks, after all, Heupel is one of the Sooners' all time great passers.
"I think I'll be able to relate with (the quarterbacks)," Heupel admitted. "My experiences as a quarterback, they can bounce some things off me, but really I'm here to work with the tight ends, but anything I can do to help at the other positions I'm willing to do."
Heupel led the Sooners to the 2000 national championship then took a shot at pro football. He played a season each with Miami and Green Bay. He took a final shot with the World League and then called it quits to focus on coaching.
He went back to Oklahoma as a grad assistant before taking the job in Tucson.
"Being a graduate assistant helped me to get the experience to be here," said Heupel. "My upbringing as a whole is what prepared me to be a college coach. Dad is a coach at Division II in South Dakota. Being a part of it growing up, when he woke up, for two-a-days I was in the car going with him. As long as I can remember, I knew I always wanted to be a coach. I grew up around the defensive side of the football. He's a defensive coordinator. I think that's helped me translate into my role when I was a quarterback and now a coach with an offensive position."
Heupel is in a similar situation at Arizona as he was when he started playing for the Sooners. Heupel was one of the first commitments in Bob Stoops' first recruiting class and in his second year led the Sooners to the title. Now he is part of the rebuilding process in the desert and knows how the blueprint works.
"We were constantly trying to get better athletically at Oklahoma, and you can see how much more athletic we are now," Heupel explained. "You're trying to constantly get better athletes, but once your group is there you're trying to get your football team to compete every day. The strength staff here is as good as there is in the country.
"When I came into Oklahoma (from junior college) I believe I was Coach Mike and Coach Bob Stoops' first recruit. You can see a quick turnaround. They won four games in 98, seven in 99, and went on to win the national championship in 2000."
While Heupel knows the need to add talent to the roster, he also sees the importance of great coaching. As the son of a coach he knows that proper instruction and preparation is vital to a team's success.
"When I was there we had two players drafted in 2000, and we played teams that had 10, 11 guys drafted that year," Heupel said. "Talent alone does not win national championships. The intangibles, knowing how to compete, playing together as a football team, believing you can be successful, and working hard to be successful in the off-season is what's necessary. This football team is more athletic than it was a year ago, more athletic than two years ago, so we're making the strides with the people who are coming in here."
Many assumed that with his ties to Mike Stoops and the Sooner program that Heupel was the handpicked successor to Spurrier, but that is not the case. His relationship may have gotten him noticed, but he had to go through the entire process to earn the job.
"We talked consistently throughout the process after Coach Spurrier decided to go to South Carolina," Heupel said. "You could see that Coach Mike was going to be a head coach somewhere. One of the most important things in me coming here is my belief in what he's going to be able to do here. He has great support, but my belief in him is why I accepted the challenge."