There’s been a lot of chatter lately about whether or not the Tennessee Vols should fire Jeremy Pruitt.
Phillip Fulmer seemingly endorsed the return of Pruitt in 2021 in a bowl game statement (the Vols were set to play West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl, but they withdrew due to positive COVID-19 tests and subsequent contact tracing).
Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer says he’s thrilled about the opportunity to play in the Liberty Bowl adding, “It’s a tremendous development opportunity for our team and should serve as a primer to spring practice for Coach Pruitt and our returners.”
— Louis Fernandez Jr (@LouisWBIR) December 21, 2020
This statement from Fulmer, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that Pruitt will return in 2021.
There’s still an ongoing investigation at Tennessee into impermissible benefits. It’s unclear at this point if Pruitt’s job status will be impacted by the fallout of the investigation.
It’s also possible that folks at UT simply decide it’s time to move on from Pruitt after a disappointing 3-7 season.
Any scenario is essentially on the table at this point.
The hot coaching name that some Vols fans want
One reason that some fans want to move on from Pruitt is because former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze could be an option for the Vols.
Freeze has made it clear through various media outlets that he wants to be at Tennessee. He had success at Ole Miss and he just led Liberty to a 10-1 record in his second season in Lynchburg.
There are two reasons, though, that a Freeze hire is unlikely at UT.
His past NCAA issues and his past issues in his personal life.
Freeze resigned from Ole Miss in 2017 amid an NCAA investigation that left him with a one-year show cause and a two-game suspension.
The Mississippi native might have survived the NCAA investigation at Ole Miss. It was his issues in his personal life that ultimately cost him his job. Freeze used a university-issued phone to call numerous escort services during his time at Ole Miss.
It’s quite easy to pile on Freeze’s character after all of that. And trust me, plenty of folks do. But that’s part of being in a high profile job. If you mess up, you’re going to get called out for it. And reporters/fans will never forget.
I believe, however, it’s also important to point out the good things about someone’s character, too.
Fair is fair, right?
And it’s not like Freeze is all bad.
In fact, I think he deserves a lot of credit for the way he’s handling the speculation that he might leave Liberty for a better job.
We’ve seen plenty of coaches in this situation before. A coach has success at a lower-level program and immediately starts garnering interest from Power-5 programs. The coach usually says something along the lines of “I love what we’re building here and I’m not planning on going anywhere”.
And then they leave.
It happens every single year.
But that’s not what Freeze is saying right now. He’s being completely open and honest with his team and the media.
“I have been very honest with the administration and with our players more so than I have ever have been,” said Freeze during a recent interview with Paul Finebaum. “Should something come that makes my heart beat a little faster, and that university feels the same about me that I feel about them, they will be the first to know that — that is the truth as I can put it.”
“To this point, there has been nothing that was mutual enough, either on their side or my side, to make me want to leave the mountain here at Liberty University.”
Like all head coaches, Freeze has his flaws. His flaws just happen to be out in the open for everyone to see.
But I think the way he’s handling this job speculation shows us that maybe we shouldn’t judge him solely on his public flaws. Maybe there’s more to Hugh Freeze than what we saw in 2017.
Featured image via Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports