“It is not like Butch (Jones) telling the media, painting things with a rainbow color brush … The biggest thing about it now, is that it is about football now.”
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee is more than halfway through its first spring under Jeremy Pruitt — and already the changes are palpable.
The first-year UT coach hasn’t disclosed much about specific players or position battles, but his press conferences and practices have been noticeably different.
There are no slogans, only ball talk and that goes hand-in-hand Pruitt changing the culture of the program and its identity.
Former players have noticed — and they’re on board.
VFL Daniel Hood (2009-2013) played under Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and Butch Jones and has been to two spring practices and a scrimmage.
“This is the first time since 2009 that I have not met a lot of people there (UT coaches),” Hood told Saturday Down South on getting to know the new UT staff. “It was good to try and familiarize in what Coach Pruitt is doing.”
A big change in practices from the previous staff is that there is not music playing, the head coach is not talking on a microphone throughout and there are no posters hanging on the side of the Anderson Training Center overlooking the practice field.
Hood described the workplace as “a no gimmick show right now” under Pruitt.
“It was good to hear all of the coaches coaching and to see the players taking to the coaching,” Hood said. “It is a completely different feel. You do not hear anyone screaming over the microphone anymore and things like that and there is a huge emphasis on coaching technique and getting guys reps. Pruitt tells you exactly what it is.
“Going through a (coaching) transition, that is probably the hardest thing for a player to know and trying to balance in what is expected for playing with the effort that you need to and also trying to learn a new system. You see some mental mistakes, young guys that look good and older guys making progress.
“There are deficient areas that he is pointing out and he is not sugar coating it at all. It is not like Butch (Jones) telling the media, painting things with a rainbow color brush, Pruitt is – it is what it is – we are not going to change it by telling the media what is going on because that is not going to make the football team any better.
“The biggest thing about it now, is that it is about football now. At the end of the day, football comes down to hitting another person, having that effort and you have to love to want and do those things and that is really about what he is saying.”
Following Tennessee’s first scrimmage, Pruitt was asked about the team’s physicality.
“When the ball is snapped you can usually hear a pop,” he said. “Well, we don’t hardly have the pop yet, so we have to get a little more pop.”
Hood noticed that as well.
“Watching the scrimmage, there were only two or three big hits, ones that you would expect to hear,” Hood said. “In a practice like that, you are hoping to get three or four times that many. You really want to hear it upfront more than anything.”
One way to increase the pop is to build bigger and stronger players. To that end, having Craig Fitzgerald oversee the strength and conditioning program is vital.
“When you look at the guys, they are starting to look like SEC caliber players again,” Hood said. “That is good to see they are already getting back to that under Coach Fitzgerald for a couple of months. How your strength and conditioning program goes is how your football program goes. One of the reasons Butch lost his job was that he lost his discipline and accountability when he lost Dave Lawson. The accountability is at an all-time high right now and it is not a surprise that accountability and discipline is the first things that were fixed when they came in.”
Addressing accountability and discipline in the strength and conditioning program goes hand-in-hand with Pruitt’s no nonsense approach in making players better and smarter on the field due to how they respond to him and the coaching staff.
“The same way Pruitt is with the media, no nonsense and it is what it is, he is that way with the players and I think players respond to that,” Hood said. “The feeling I get from it, Pruitt has one thing and he is not going to hide anything and guys are going to respect that.
“This staff is all about the coaching portion of it. I think with Butch, a lot of the things they were doing were coaching basic effort and then trying to fix technique and with this staff you have a standard of effort that you have to provide and they are working on coaching technique all the time.
“They expect that from the players and they are not going to allow them to not give effort, but they are also going to coach them up. You also see appreciation with that in how the guys are buying in. The three biggest things that I have noticed the most about the coaching staff, that they are hardcore on the technique side of it, having standards in what they want to do and at the end of the day they appreciate how hard the guys are working and they are there to help them get better.”