By Alex Norman
Well Tennessee fans… your long national nightmare is over.
On Thursday, December 7th, the Vols announced that Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt would be their new head football coach.
“The first thing I want to say is how honored and humbled I am to be recognized as the head football coach at the University of Tennessee,” said Pruitt at his introductory press conference. “When you talk about tradition, I grew up in a small town in North Alabama on the Tennessee River, so I grew up knowing all about the University of Tennessee. Running through the T, Smokey, the great teams that Coach (Robert) Neyland, Coach (Doug) Dickey, Coach (Johnny) Majors and Coach (Phillip) Fulmer put on the field. There was a time and place that this university was feared among the rest of the SEC. My goal as the head football coach at the University of Tennessee is to get us back to that point.”
“Coach Pruitt’s reputation precedes him. His work ethic, coaching talents, his recruiting abilities, and his ability to motivate his athletes are all fantastic,” said Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer. “He is a person of integrity, and he is a great fit for our Tennessee family. As I got to know Jeremy, his energy and his personality was infectious. As you get to know him, I think you will agree.”
For Pruitt, this will be his first head coaching job, but his resume is very impressive. While on Alabama’s coaching staff between 2007-20012, he helped the Crimson Tide win national championships, and another title came in 2013 when he was the defensive coordinator at Florida State. As the defensive coordinator at Georgia (2014-2015) and Alabama (2016-2017), his defenses have been among the best not only in the SEC, but the nation.
In recent years Tennessee has had issues in terms of physicality. Way too many starters getting injured, way too many players in sweats instead of pads on gameday. Pruitt understands the nature of football, and what the Vols need to change going forward.
“What kind of football team do we want to have here? My vision for our football team is we want to be a big, fast, dominating, aggressive, relentless football team that nobody in the SEC wants to play. That’s my goal,” said Pruitt.
Former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones was putting together a top ten recruiting class, but when the 2017 season went south, recruits decommitted left and right, including 5-star offensive tackle Cade Mays from Knoxville Catholic. Pruitt’s success will depend a great deal on how well he is able to recruit.
“We’re going to start right here in this state,” said Pruitt. “And we’re going to start from Knoxville and work our way out. This is going to be our state. We’re going to go out and create relationships, because that’s what it’s all about. This is still a people business.”
Pruitt has the reputation as a solid recruiter. He was named “National Recruiter of the Year” by 247Sports back in 2012.
Pruitt watched from afar at how much Tennessee struggled in 2017. Actually, there was one up close viewing. On October 21st, the Crimson Tide dominated the Vols 45-7. It was a game in which Tennessee failed to score a point on Pruitt’s defense (Tennessee’s lone score was a Daniel Bituli Pick-6).
“I’m a firm believer that you don’t look in the rearview mirror,” said Pruitt. “There is nothing that I can do about what has happened here in the past. It will have no effect on what happens here in the future. Nothing that happened here last year is going to affect what happens here in the future. Our guys are going to understand that. We are focused on what it is going to take for us to have success. I think our guys are pretty excited. Now we have to take it one day at a time.”
The Tennessee coaching search was a tire fire. Coaches were pretty much hired (Greg Schiano), only to be brought down by a fan revolt. Other coaches turned the Vols down (Mike Gundy, Jeff Brohm, Dave Doeren). Another coach was probably going to take the job (Mike Leach) only to have the guy talking to him fired (Athletics Director John Currie). A new Athletics Director was hired (Phillip Fulmer) and finally that lead to the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt.
It was a coaching search for the ages.
Now, it’s time to talk about actual football once again.