Tennessee football: Is Jeremy Pruitt truly a head coach?
Jeremy Pruitt has been a head coach at Tennessee for exactly 13 games. It’s time to wonder if he’s in over his head.
Tennessee’s shocking 38-30 loss to Georgia State on Saturday was one of the most embarrassing games in school history. The Vols lacked any sufficient answers for a team that oddsmakers thought wasn’t even close to a serious threat. The Vols, 25-point favorites at home, looked outcoached and outsmarted for the vast majority of the contest.
It’s not as if Georgia State won in some sort of fluky manner. The Panthers were simply better. They controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball for 60 minutes. They were more creative when it came to running misdirection plays on offense and blitzes on defense. They were the better-coached team — and that was blatantly obvious.
And it wasn’t even close.
Had this been Pruitt’s first season, maybe Saturday’s loss would have been acceptable. One could argue that he was still in the process of changing the culture at Tennessee, that it wasn’t yet his team, etc. However, those cliches don’t hold up in Year 2. Pruitt has had time to put his stamp on UT’s football program, and it looked pathetically weak on Saturday.
Everyone lauded Pruitt for landing Jim Chaney as his offensive coordinator. The Vols had supposedly snatched Chaney away from one of UT’s top rivals, Georgia. Sure, Chaney is a proven offensive coach, but it looked like the Vols got damaged goods from Athens on Saturday against Georgia State.
UT’s offense had no identity and no big-play threat. The Vols had far more pop in their offense last year under former offensive coordinator Tyson Helton. Remember him? Helton was the coach that was pushed aside by Pruitt. Well, that castoff was good enough to be hired as the head coach at Western Kentucky.
Pruitt’s team lacked any sort of fire against Georgia State. With a weak schedule and another year under Pruitt, the Vols should have been energetic and hungry for a resurgent season. Instead, they were inept and desperate that fate would keep them from a disastrous opener.
That didn’t happen.
Pruitt looked equally as inept as a head coach this week when questioned about suspended defensive back Bryce Thompson. Pruitt played the “ongoing investigation” card when asked about Thompson’s history of domestic issues with women. No matter your stance on what should happen to Thompson and how he should be dealt with, Pruitt sounded more like a team manager than a head coach.
Tennessee’s fan support — or lack thereof — on Saturday further puts Pruitt’s future in jeopardy. Forget the announced crowd. Neyland Stadium had about 70,000 fans for a home opener, which was supposed to be a celebratory win over an inferior opponent. Apparently the masses knew what was coming. When there are 30,000-soemthing empty seats, that’s a bad, bad look. And it might get worse.
The Vols didn’t seem to have a daunting nonconference schedule before Saturday. UT should have had four guaranteed wins against Georgia State, BYU, Chattanooga and UAB. So much for sure things. Based on their performance on Saturday, the Vols will be lucky to go 2-2 in those games. As for conference games, you don’t want to hear about that.
Pruitt’s job security at UT has two important facets that can’t be ignored. First, the Vols need stability after the last decade of coaching changes. Second, the Vols probably can’t hire a more proven coach until they show their program is on better footing. So Pruitt isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
I’ve long thought that Pruitt would raise Tennessee’s program to a level of respectability — as in eight or nine wins per season. Then, a tough decision would have to be made if he could make UT elite again.
Now, however, I have a new set of questions.
First, can Pruitt even properly motivate a team and prepare it against anyone? Being outcoached against Alabama, Georgia or Florida is one thing, but being outcoached by Georgia State’s Shawn Elliott — a longtime South Carolina assistant — is quite another. Let’s not forget that Georgia State only won TWO GAMES last year, so this is not some mid-major powerhouse.
Second, has Pruitt been pushed into the deep end too quickly? Based on Saturday it appears that he’s sinking fast.