Based on all that he has accomplished at both the collegiate and high school levels, Jeremy Pruitt arrived in Knoxville with a ton of hype. The work put in by he and his staff are already paying off in recruiting, as Tennessee had landed three Georgia prospects that could all potentially play immediately in Knoxville when they arrive in 2019.
While the early returns in recruiting have mostly been positive for Pruitt and his Tennessee staff, there’s still a ton of work to be done when it comes to the actual roster they inherited on Rocky Top. If you go by odds released by Vegas or offshore sportsbooks, Tennessee projects to be in for a rough season in Pruitt’s debut campaign.
So how important will be making a bowl game in his first year as Tennessee’s head coach? Pruitt answered that question during a recent appearance on Knoxville-based radio station program Sportstalk of WNML.
“The big thing is I don’t want to put a ceiling on what we want to accomplish this year,” Pruitt answered. “Our big goal for each individual player as a unit, and as a team, is to do our very best every day. If we do our best, then we’ll see where the chips fall. Obviously, if you go to a bowl, you have an opportunity to get three more weeks of practice, so it’s good for young players.”
The Tennessee coach was asked another hot topic in college football these days, the blocking of graduate transfers from attending their program of choice. This is a particularly relevant question with Tennessee’s reported interest in Alabama graduate transfer offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy. It has also been reported that Nick Saban and Alabama are blocking Kennedy from seeking a potential transfer to Knoxville.
Kennedy is in the process of appealing that decision, and the NCAA is expected to vote on whether student-athletes even need to gain permission from their former schools before transferring. That vote is expected in June.
“The big thing when it comes to guys that are grad transfers; if they’ve shown the maturity to do what it takes to get a degree — obviously I don’t think they would be leaving a situation where they thought they could continue to have success,” Pruitt said. “If they’ve earned their degree, in my opinion, they’ve earned the right to choose where they want to go, by maturity and the things they’ve accomplished.
“We’ve had some guys that elected to leave here and, you know, that’s their decision, and we’ve supported them. The way I look at it is who am I to determine where somebody is going to go to school? They’ve earned the opportunity to go where they want to go.”
Pruitt was also asked about how long it takes to change the culture of a program. Is that something that can be accomplished in a single offseason? It’s a complicated question, and one Pruitt could not offer a concrete answer to at this point in time.
“I think a lot of it has to do with… each program is probably a little bit different. Some of it has to do with leadership,” Pruitt continued. “When you change the culture, sometimes I don’t think it’s measured in wins and losses. It’s the buy-in factor, it’s people doing it the way you want it done. If you look over the history of guys taking over a job, lots of time you can look from Year 1 to Year 2 and see a big jump and I think that’s a part of guys changing the culture.”
There’s no sugarcoating there from Pruitt. It may take some time but he’s willing to acknowledge results may not come overnight without the right type of leadership in place. Tennessee’s coach has stated time and again since his arrival that he and his coaches are the leaders of Tennessee at this point. Until they see enough leadership from the players in the program, Pruitt and his coaches will continue to set the tone for the roster moving forward.