By Steve Williams
Is it right for the fans and local media to be so critical of Coach Jeremy Pruitt this soon in his time at Tennessee?
I don’t think so, and it may cause more harm than good.
The negativity has raised its ugly head so quickly, in my opinion, because of the UT program’s struggles to succeed for so long. Since the 2007 season under Phillip Fulmer, there haven’t been too many fun times for the Vols and their fans in football.
But it’s way too early to judge Pruitt. Yet, some fans have already called for him to be fired. That’s unbelievable and embarrassing.
The local sports columnist, who called for Fulmer to resign in February of 2008, recently nicknamed the first-time head coach Jeremy “Butch” Pruitt because of his 15-16 record’s similarity to Jones’ record after 31 games.
Was that low blow really about the won-loss record or the fact Fulmer, now UT’s athletic director, handpicked Pruitt for the job?
If you really know anything about football and you want to be fair to Pruitt, the program and the process, you will let the man do his job for at least four full years and maybe five. The goal should be to have stability in the program, not set it back another three or four years.
Right now, Pruitt is about at the halfway point. And to those of you who are too quick to judge, I would say Pruitt’s teams should get better and win more games as his recruits get older and more mature. Not a single Pruitt recruit has yet become a senior.
After Fulmer was shown the door late in the 2008 season by Mike Hamilton (maybe the biggest mistake in the history of UT athletics), Lane Kiffin was hired but left after one season for his “dream job” at USC. Derek Dooley, who once had a recruiting class without a single offensive lineman in it, lasted only three years. And Butch was fired late in his fifth season as the Vols were on their way to a 4-8 record.
Pruitt impressed right away with his emphasis on play in the trenches and more size and toughness.
His first team, which won on the road at Auburn but lost at Vanderbilt, was 5-7 overall and 2-6 in the SEC.
Season 2 began with a startling home loss to Georgia State but ended with a Gator Bowl win over Indiana.
After edging the Hoosiers 23-22 for their sixth straight win, the Vols won their first two games this pandemic year, and then lost four in a row.
Maybe Fulmer made a mistake. That’s possible. He’s human. But we don’t know yet. It’s too early.
Pruitt is human, too. Yes, he’s already made some mistakes. I like to believe he will learn from them. If he doesn’t, then he won’t be here long.
What I see in Pruitt is a fiery coach and one that wants to win as much as anyone. That desire to win carries over into his post-game comments. After a tough loss, you can clearly see and hear his pain and agony. He wants to be here. He wants to win.
Another positive for Pruitt appears to be his fairness to all of his players and not just the ones he recruited. He always has their backs.
Getting back to the level when Tennessee ranked regularly in the Top 10 and won SEC championships under Johnny Majors and Fulmer is going to take stability in the program.
Majors and Fulmer combined for 32 years of stability.
Recruiting, obviously, played a huge part in their success. Majors experienced a slow start similar to Pruitt’s, but once he got his players in the program, the Vols took off. And when Majors was surprisingly let go, Fulmer built onto the established program and eventually guided Tennessee to that 13-0 record and national championship in 1998.
Pruitt’s recruiting has been on the upswing since he got here and he has one of the top-ranked classes on the way. Just a couple of days ago, I heard a recruiting expert say just about all of Pruitt’s commits were still coming to play for him and that’s certainly a good sign for building stability.
If Pruitt were to be fired after this season, most of those recruits would probably head elsewhere and Tennessee’s rebuilding project would be set back another four or five years.
Thus, if you are truly a fan of the Tennessee football program, you should pull for Pruitt to succeed and be given adequate time to see if he can get the job done.