Jeremy Pruitt is from Alabama.
Butch Jones is from Michigan.
Jeremy Pruitt is a defensive coach.
Butch Jones is an offensive coach.
Jeremy Pruitt speaks genuinely and from the heart.
Butch Jones is robotic and speaks in cliches.
There aren’t many similarities between Tennessee’s new head football coach, Jeremy Pruitt, and the one that the Big Orange just got rid of. In fact, the two are essentially polar opposites of each other. And that’s a very good thing.
Pruitt is exactly what Tennessee needs right now.
After slogging through five years of painfully underwhelming coaching and an ocean of Butchisms, Vol fans finally came out on the other side greeted by a hard nosed but likable coach from the deep south who made it clear that he wants to get to work building Tennessee football back up as quickly as possible. During Pruitt’s introductory press conference on Thursday night, it was like breathing with new lungs hearing a coach talk about a need to dominate in the trenches instead of “resiliency.”
Tennessee needed to get back to basics after what has arguably been the most tumultuous month in its entire history and Pruitt brings the simplicity of a singularly focused, hard-working coach who prefers fundamentals over fluff. Not to mention, Pruitt’s former players speak very highly of him and even national analysts have begrudgingly given UT props for the hire.
There’s no denying that Pruitt said all the right things on his first night on Rocky Top. That’s really nothing new because winning a press conference is easy, but his comments didn’t appear to be orchestrated and forced out by a public relations team as the Vol faithful have become all too used to hearing, and that’s because his comments didn’t need to be whitewashed.
Pruitt was the right hire, so no hard PR spin was required. Tennessee’s administration didn’t need to explain themselves or talk around a coach who was given the job out of desperation.
While there’s no denying that Tennessee was in an extremely tough spot when Pruitt was hired, it’s clear that this was not a frenzied compromise. Pruitt is the antithesis of the failed regime that Vol football is crawling out from under and this was a deliberate move to do what’s right for the program, not to save a buck or pacify the interests of big donors.
And there’s one man that Tennessee fans can thank for this refreshingly cogent decision:
After the stunning revolt of the Tennessee fanbase and the ejection of John Currie, Fulmer stepped in to lead UT’s athletics program and his first big move appears to be a smart one. He initially called around to a number of higher profile coaches, found that very few, if any, were interested in coming to Knoxville and he then formulated a plan that eventually led to Pruitt.
Fulmer narrowed down the pool of candidates to a set of defensive coordinators with tons of SEC experience and a flair for recruiting. Out of those finalists, Pruitt was chosen, and there’s one element to the hire that truly proves Fulmer made a decision that was in the best interest of UT and not outside influences:
Pruitt is an Alabama man. He’s an Alabama native, Tide alumus, and has worked almost exclusively in the state of Alabama. This is unexpected but becomes even more surprising when you consider that one of the other finalists was Auburn’s Kevin Steele, who is a former Tennessee football player.
And if you know Phillip Fulmer’s background, as most Vol fans do, there’s probably no one in America who despises Alabama more. He’s fiercely battled with the Evil Crimson Empire for the majority of his career. So, seeing Fulmer proudly hire a Bama man tells me that this decision was made with his head and not his heart.
Fulmer saw what was ailing Tennessee football and hired a coach that he felt could heal UT’s wounds, not one that simply has past connections to the University. There was no bowing to the normal saboteurs that have held the Vols back for the last decade. This was a change for the better, the likes of which haven’t been seen in Knoxville for quite some time.
Now, I have to state the obvious here: Jeremy Pruitt still has to win football games. At the end of the day, he hasn’t done anything truly meaningful for Tennessee yet. Culturally, Pruitt is a perfect fit for the Vols and has given the fan base a unifying shot in the arm. Also, he appears to be putting together an excellent staff, but we won’t know for certain whether or not Pruitt is the one to turn around UT football until September 1, 2018 at the earliest.
But for now, after all of the craziness that has unfolded around the Big Orange program is recent weeks, the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt is a win. Hopefully, the first of many victories to come.
Now, the only thing left to do is work like heck.