It's time to buy out Jeremy Pruitt and turn to a familiar face to resurrect Tennessee football
It’s time for Jeremy Pruitt to hand over the keys. He’s not ready to be a head coach.
Pruitt has proved in 2 games this season that he’s not the best coach in the SEC, SEC East or even in Knoxville. Someone else holds that title. Pruitt’s boss.
Someone in UT’s athletic department has a national championship under his belt and a couple of SEC championship rings. Can anyone imagine Pruitt ever doing that? I have a better chance of hoisting a winning lottery ticket than Pruitt does of hoisting a championship trophy.
If the Vols fired Pruitt they’d have to pay a hefty buyout — about $10 million. That’s steep — unless there’s another man on UT’s payroll who could do the job.
The Vols have proven they can’t go outside to hire a coach with a rich pedigree. Gruden, Gundy, Brohm. Nope. Nope. Nope.
Fortunately, the Vols have a coach with a much better résumé that would willingly accept the job. Imagine having a championship coach — no, seriously, a national championship coach — on the sideline immediately.
It was bound to happen. That was the case when UT hired its current athletic director. Being a former coach doesn’t necessarily mean one can rekindle championship success. However, it certainly is a good indicator of potential success or, at least, respectability.
Sports betting in Tennessee officially launched on November 1, 2020, and many of the largest sportsbooks are live and operating in the volunteer state. Tennessee is only one of a handful of SEC football states with legalized sports betting.
It’s kind of odd how former UT quarterback Tee Martin declined to leave Southern California when Butch Jones was the head coach at Tennessee. However, Martin jumped at the chance to join Pruitt’s staff. What changed? There was a new athletic director in Knoxville with a very familiar feel.
It’s also odd that former UT defensive coordinator John Chavis is languishing at Arkansas after various SEC stops. Would he come back to Knoxville? Yes.
In replacing Pruitt, there’s that whole sticky $10-million buyout issue. However, let’s take a closer look at that. Pruitt is costing Tennessee an enormous amount of money daily. Stands are empty. Donations have to be waning. A generation has been lost. It’s time to get it back before another generation falls by the wayside.
Had some ill-fated changes not been made following the 2008 season, then the history of UT football would have been much different. No, the Vols probably wouldn’t have won another championship. Recruiting had slipped and UT’s coach at the time had made some very significant missteps in hiring assistants.
That’s all in the past. Tennessee’s football future is what is most significant. That future happens to be on campus. It’s time to turn back to the person who made Tennessee a national power. It’s time to turn to Phillip Fulmer. No, really.
In doing so, it’s important to keep in mind that Fulmer won’t likely win another national championship. However, he can return the Vols to respectability. After an 0-2 start, it doesn’t appear Pruitt can accomplish the same. Pruitt has found unique ways to lose games. His entire team was listless in the season opener against Georgia State. It was undisciplined in the waning moments of the BYU game.
How else can Pruitt find a way to lose a game? Do you really want to stand by and find out?
Sure, Fulmer wasn’t perfect during his tenure at Tennessee. He found embarrassing ways to lose just like Pruitt. However, Fulmer’s ceiling is much higher than Pruitt’s. Fulmer turned UT into a national power and was known as one of the top recruiters in the nation. Fulmer was considered one of the top offensive line coaches in the country. He would have settled with a starting 5 well before the season instead of using UT’s first 2 games to test countless players up front.
Fulmer just turned 69, but that just makes him a tad older than Nick Saban and Mack Brown.
If Fulmer were named the head coach at UT tomorrow, he wouldn’t immediately dominate the SEC. The landscape of the conference is far more challenging than when Fulmer last coached. However, it’s reasonable to think he could handle Georgia State and BYU … and Vanderbilt.
Pruitt is the perfect coach to hand Fulmer the job. Pruitt has recruited well enough. The Vols aren’t loaded with talent, but they have enough ability to be much more respectable than they are now. If the Vols ever have to make a coaching change, they won’t be able to simply hire whomever they want. UT will be stuck in the same series of “No thank you” responses that have become a Tennessee tradition.
There is one coach with a history of success that wouldn’t turn the Vols down. And he’s already in the building.
Admittedly, I was one of the many who thought that Fulmer should have been fired following the 2008 season and I still stand by that. Had Lane Kiffin not bolted after one season, the Vols would be in a whole different position. However, that’s not the case.
The reality is Tennessee is in real danger of missing out on a bowl game for the third consecutive season for the second time this decade and hasn’t finished a season inside the top 20 since Fulmer left.
Fulmer is the only plausible answer to getting the Vols back to respectability. UT can wait to make such a bold move. However, doing so only buries the Vols deeper in mediocrity.