Phillip Fulmer knows a winner when he sees one and while he admits the Tennessee football program has really strayed from that path recently, what he’s seen from Jeremy Pruitt’s program this spring gives him optimism heading into the 2019 season.
During his recent appearance at the SEC spring meetings from Destin, the Tennessee AD shared his thoughts on the progress of the football program exiting Pruitt’s second spring on Rocky Top.
“Spring practice was like night and day (compared to last year),” Fulmer said according to Blake Toppmeyer of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
That’s got to be music to the ears of the Tennessee faithful as the Vols went 5-7 and missed a bowl game last season. Despite the poor record on the field, Pruitt and company managed to land a top 15 recruiting class which featured several elite prospects that appear poised to see the field early and often this fall.
Tennessee’s failures weren’t just limited to the field, however, as another NFL Draft came and went without a single Volunteer hearing his name called. That’s something that Fulmer finds hard to wrap his mind around and a big reason why he is leading the athletics department and hired Pruitt to lead the football program in Knoxville.
“This program, in my time around it, has never been at this place,” Fulmer continued. “I mean, in three out of the (last) five years, we had nobody drafted. At Tennessee? Are you kidding?”
Pruitt and his Tennessee staff have a long history of both recruiting and developing high school prospects into future NFL players and there’s an excellent chance they provide at least a few draft picks this time next year to end Tennessee’s drought. With that being said, where Fulmer really sees progress in Pruitt is his ability to adapt after adjusting to being a head coach for the first time in his coaching career.
“I’ve seen Jeremy grow,” Fulmer added. “He’s still very involved in all phases, but he’s allocated responsibilities and holding people accountable very well. I was super impressed with his gameday management. That’s probably the harder (part of the job), because everything is instantaneous. You can tell he’s got a really good background of handling situations, making decisions quick and those kind of things.”
There may be no better sign of Pruitt’s willingness to adapt than his decision to hire Derrick Ansley to call the defense for Tennessee next season. That decision came less than a year after Pruitt not only called the defensive plays on the field but admitted he would call the offensive plays too, if he could. That level of management may have been too much for Pruitt in Year 1 and now that he has a head defensive assistant he knows well from their years of working together and hired one of the most experienced coordinators in recent SEC history to run his offense in Jim Chaney.
If nothing else, those moves show Tennessee’s coach is willing to adapt to do the best job possible for the Volunteer program, which has to reassure Fulmer that he hired the right man for the job.