The goal of every FBS head coach is to reach the College Football Playoff.
For some programs, that’s a realistic goal. For other programs, it’s not a goal that’s within reach.
Programs that aren’t in a Power-5 conference probably won’t ever reach the playoff (at least in its current format). And there are some programs in Power-5 conferences that probably don’t have a legitimate shot, either. It’s hard to imagine Vanderbilt, Wake Forest or Kansas reaching college football’s final four.
The Tennessee Vols, however, are a program that has a realistic shot at reaching the playoff.
Tennessee has the resources, schedule and history (that’s important) to make a run. All they need to do is win the games necessary to make it happen. Winning enough games depends on the job that Jeremy Pruitt does as the Vols’ head coach.
There are very few coaches that have what it takes to lead a team a playoff appearance. There are even less that have what it takes to win a championship (only five active coaches have won a championship). I think Pruitt is one of the few coaches that at least has what it takes to reach the College Football Playoff.
And here are five reasons why I believe that.
Teams don’t reach the College Football Playoff unless they have elite athletes. There’s just no way around it. When you look at the teams consistently reaching the playoff (or just missing out), it’s almost always the teams that are annually at the top of the recruiting rankings. Pruitt has a reputation for being an elite recruiter. He lived up to that reputation during the last recruiting cycle. The Vols had a disastrous start to the 2019 season, starting 0-2 with losses to Georgia State and BYU. Despite that terrible start, Tennessee still managed to land a top 10 recruiting class. Imagine what Pruitt can do when the Vols start winning more than 7-8 games a year.
One of Butch Jones’ biggest downfalls at Tennessee was his inability to surround himself with good people. Jones was insecure, so he didn’t like to hire people that might challenge his knowledge. Pruitt is the opposite. So far during his time in Knoxville, Pruitt has showed he wants to bring the best coaches possible to Tennessee. And he wants to let them coach. When he gave up defensive play calling duties to Derrick Ansley last year, it showed that Pruitt is ok with delegating responsibilities to capable coaches. In other words, Pruitt doesn’t micromanage.
X’s and O’s
Recruiting and managing a coaching staff are extremely important. But let’s not forget that at the end of the day, a football coach — at any level — has to be a good X’s and O’s coach to be successful. No one in the business doubts Pruitt’s football knowledge. And the knowledge that he brings (on both sides of the ball, despite being a defensive minded head coach), should make Vol fans feel incredibly confident about the product that Tennessee is going to put on the field in the years to come.
Pruitt cares about the players more than winning
This might seem like a contradictory statement, in regards to the subject we’re talking about, but Pruitt cares more about his players than he does about winning. But that’s also a big reason why he’s going to be successful at Tennessee. Pruitt has made it clear by his actions that he wants the best for the players he recruits — even if they don’t end up signing with Tennessee. Pruitt goes out of his way to help players, whether it’s transferring, staying at UT or quitting football altogether. That kind of approach creates trust. And trust is an important ingredient to winning.
There’s no substitute for experience. And Pruitt has plenty of experience when it comes to winning championships. Pruitt was the director of player development when Alabama won the BCS championship in 2009. He was the Crimson Tide’s defensive backs coach in 2011 and 2012 when Alabama won it all. Pruitt was the defensive coordinator for Florida State’s BCS championship win in 2013. And he was the defensive coordinator at Alabama when they won the College Football Playoff in 2017 (he was also Alabama’s defensive coordinator when they lost to Clemson in the championship game in 2016). Pruitt knows what it takes to reach the playoff as well as anyone. And that experience will absolutely help Tennessee eventually make an appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports