Tennessee football: Jeremy Pruitt's emotion was quite telling in ways both good and bad
Jeremy Pruitt’s showing of emotion following Tennessee’s 38-12 loss to Georgia was telling in many ways.
First, it was a sign that the first-year head coach is human. Some have questioned that if they ever actually met him. Pruitt is stoic in conversations with the media and the public. Now, I’m not sure what he’s like behind closed doors, but every time I’ve spoken to him it was as matter-of-fact as a robot. His press conferences have carried the same tenor.
The other thing I took from Pruitt’s brief display of emotion last Saturday was the fact that he’s invested in Tennessee, which I’ve never been quite sure of. He doesn’t have the connections to UT that the Vols boasted when they were at their best. Former coach Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer attended UT and loved the entire university. There was only one way they’d leave Tennessee and that was if they were fired, which eventually happened.
Sure, Fulmer flirted with the NFL in the early 2000s when his stock was high, but did anyone think he’d actually leave his alma mater? Fulmer’s interest in the NFL was more about being appreciated, which often times meant a raise and/or a contract extension.
And as for Majors, he’d coach UT tomorrow if given the opportunity, even though he’s 83.
Some have said Pruitt would gladly jump at another job if he has success at UT. That might still be the case, but after Pruitt’s press conference on Sunday, I get the feeling he’s more invested than I once did. Besides if Pruitt has enough success at UT, he would have done an incredible job rebuilding the Vols. If Pruitt is highly coveted by other schools one day, that would be a fantastic problem for Tennessee’s administration to have.
However, the one disconcerting aspect of Pruitt’s emotion was that he might have tipped his hand a bit. He might have shown UT fans just how bad this roster is. Despite fighting hard, these Vols just aren’t very good. They’re probably worse than we even believed.
Former UT coach Butch Jones did his best to inflate his recruiting success. He’d lobby for commitments’ rankings to go up just because they would eventually sign with UT. Based on recruiting rankings over the past five seasons, the Vols should have an above-average roster. They don’t.
I kept hearing the same things from sources within the program that I’ve heard before, that Pruitt was stunned how bad UT’s roster really was, that this would be a long rebuild and that UT was nowhere near their SEC counterparts — and not just the really good ones. At first, I discounted that notion. I had heard the same sort of comments when other coaches took over. It’s always smart to lower the bar when taking over a program. Nobody needs high expectations to begin their tenure at a new school. Now, I believe the Vols are worse than we ever imagined.
The offensive line is either inexperienced or lacks talent at most positions. The Vols can’t generate a pass rush. Those are two pretty important things in football. Without those, it’s hard to imagine any team having much success. And then there’s the quarterback situation.
It’s time for UT fans to face the stark realization that a 3-9 record is not only possible; it’s likely. That would be the worst season in Tennessee’s long, proud history.
Who can the Vols beat on their schedule other than Charlotte? In years past, UT fans could point to Kentucky and Vanderbilt as likely wins. No more. Both teams are better than UT and have better rosters. Let that sink in for a bit.
When Pruitt was hired, I thought being 6-6 and bowl eligible was an attainable goal. I now think that’s a fairy tale. On second thought, maybe the Vols can be bowl eligible. Maybe the Vols can win six games — in 2020.