Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt is learning on the job. That's what makes the final stretch so critical
Tennessee got just what it hired with Jeremy Pruitt, a lifelong assistant who had never been a head coach. Pruitt has looked like the part lately.
Pruitt’s recent comments in his Monday press conference were befuddling. When asked about a possible South Carolina fumble, he claimed that every play was reviewed by replay officials and there was no way to challenge the play. That’s not exactly true. Pruitt could have called a timeout, essentially challenging the play, which would have given the officials more time to review the play. Had the Vols been awarded the ball, that would have averted an early scoring threat that could have changed the course of the game.
It’s been well documented that Pruitt hasn’t been comfortable at fan events and during media interviews. He’s even confirmed as much. That’s yet another sign of Pruitt not having head coaching experience.
Pruitt also took five games to find any sort of offensive flow for the Vols. Credit him and his staff for successful offensive game plans against Auburn and South Carolina, but why did it take so long for Pruitt to assess the fact that UT’s current team is best suited to throw the ball, not pound it repeatedly inside? The reason: Pruitt is a first-year head coach.
Pruitt seemingly had a game plan before he arrived in Knoxville. Run the ball, keep the score low and win with a stout defense. In theory, that sounds like a good plan. It certainly worked wonders for the school he left. In reality, it’s a sign of a coach that isn’t willing to adapt. That would make sense because Pruitt has never really had to adapt. Pruitt has had incredibly talented defenses in recent years at his various coaching stops. He was in charge of making them dominant and nothing else. Now, he’s in charge of everything.
None of this means Pruitt isn’t the right man to return Tennessee to national prominence. It just means he has to grow and UT fans have to be patient enough to allow that to happen. The expectations for UT fans have fallen so far that the latter probably won’t be a problem.
The biggest development that needs to happen moving forward is that Pruitt has to willingly adapt. His predecessors couldn’t do that. Derek Dooley quickly realized the Tennessee job was way too big for him and tried to make his way through his tenure via quippy press conferences. There were even reports that he tried to come to a severance with UT a year before he was actually fired. Butch Jones realized he was in over his head and, based on various reports, became frustrated and angry.
This isn’t the time to be stubborn. Pruitt needs to learn more about himself in his first season as a head coach. That starts with realizing that he didn’t have all the answers when he took the job at UT. Can Pruitt actually do that and adapt? We’ll find out.
Some of Pruitt’s press conferences make me wonder. He has been overly defensive of his fourth-down decision in the South Carolina game. He seemed more concerned with convincing the media and fans that his call was the right decision than looking at the facts and being willing to self examine. Contrast that with Ed Orgeron, who openly criticized himself for not going for it on 4th-and-inches in LSU’s loss to Florida.
Now, I’m not suggesting Pruitt have a therapy session at a press conference anytime soon. However, let’s hope that whatever he says at media settings are more public relations than what he really thinks. If not, then the Vols have a problem. The most important thing that Pruitt can learn from his first season as a head coach is that he didn’t have all the answers just because his job title changed.