Tennessee football: Don't let facemask tug sway your opinion of Jeremy Pruitt
Tennessee fans were all atwitter on social media when Jeremy Pruitt grabbed Jarrett Guarantano’s facemask during UT’s 35-13 loss to Alabama on Saturday.
Was it too aggressive? Was it just what the Vols needed? I understand both sides of the argument and I’ll let you decide on your own. Just like raising children, I’ll do it my way and you can do it yours.
Personally, I have no problem with Pruitt being aggressive with Guarantano. My guess is that Guarantano has no issue with the personal contact either. Guarantano was raised by a New York City police officer. I’m guessing there was some tough love in that family. Guarantano is a tough young man. I’m sure he can handle a facemask grab. Moreover, Pruitt didn’t grab and twist Guarantano’s facemask. The contact was more like a nudge than anything else.
Guarantano’s regression continues to be the biggest mystery of this season. Does anyone remember when he was named the absolute starter before the season only to be benched by freshman Brian Maurer? Had Guarantano improved under first-year offensive coordinator Jim Chaney or at least played as well as he did last year, the Vols would still be in the bowl hunt. Instead, UT might not even win five games this season.
That’s not to say that I am blaming everything on Guarantano. I’m not. It was up to UT’s coaches to make Guarantano successful. They’ve failed miserably.
UT’s coaches are responsible for putting their players in the best position to succeed. I thought Chaney, who was UT’s offensive coordinator in 2009, would be able to do that. He resurrected former UT quarterback Jonathan Crompton’s career by tailor-making an offense that suited him. Why couldn’t Chaney do the same thing with Guarantano? There have been signs before this season that Guarantano could be a very good quarterback. UT’s coaches have failed to showcase his talents.
But why? Simply learning a new offense is a challenge. Guarantano has faced that. Playing behind UT’s porous offensive line is another challenge. Guarantano faced that early in the season and was forced to do it again when Maurer was knocked out of the game on Saturday. There are plenty of reasons Guarantano’s play has slipped. However, some of his issues have to be his own fault.
So was Pruitt too aggressive with Guarantano? I think not. I would like to think that if Pruitt had a facemask then UT athletic director Phillip Fulmer would be grabbing it right now. The Vols have not showcased Guarantano’s abilities properly and that will likely cost them a bowl bid.
UT’s coaches came into the season with purpose at quarterback. They proclaimed everywhere that Guarantano was their starter. Either Tennessee’s coaches didn’t properly assess the situation or they didn’t handle Guarantano properly. Nothing that happened on Saturday, especially grabbing a facemask, is nearly as detrimental as that.
Pruitt is entering a strange area for a head coach. Anything he does on the sideline will be twisted into whatever a fan wants to believe of him. Some will say that, in the case of Guarantano on Saturday, Pruitt was too aggressive. Had Pruitt just crossed his arms and kept his calm, some would have said he is too complacent. My suggestion to Pruitt would be to not care about any of those that nitpick his gametime demeanor.
Is Pruitt showing signs of frustration? Clearly. Why wouldn’t he? Pruitt has been successful throughout his career. What must it be like to fall short of a bowl game for a second season and continue to suffer one-sided losses? Pruitt isn’t used to that, which is a good thing.
Don’t judge Pruitt on one facemask grab. Judge him on what he does moving forward. Will the Vols actually find an identity on offense? Will they continue to be original on defense to overcome their shortcoming of talent? Will the Vols be successful on the recruiting trail? Judge Pruitt by those things, not a facemask grab.
Some of you reading this — especially some parents — have a problem with Pruitt’s facemask grab. Some would say that’s a violation of space, that it is never called for. OK, I respect that. However, as a parent, it didn’t bother me at all.
One needs to understand the realm of football. You are always invading someone’s personal space. It’s the nature of the game. UT’s football players and coaches aren’t salesmen, engineers or insurance reps, they’re involved in a physical contest. I wouldn’t recommend slapping your child at home to get his attention but grabbing a facemask in that arena is perfectly understandable.
I’ve seen all kinds of coaches with my children and I can tell you that I’d rather have one fully engaged than not at all. Feel free to nitpick if you’d like but there’s no question that Pruitt is fully engaged. That should be deemed as a huge positive for Tennessee fans.