Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt entered foreign territory during National Signing Day.
He understands pressure just as well as anybody. When you’re the defensive coordinator at Alabama, expectations are borderline unrealistic.
However, football in Tuscaloosa is consistent, so in return, the fans are often just as consistent.
In Knoxville, the temperature of Vol Nation varies by the nanosecond. Perception around the head coach is often a tug-of-war, and Pruitt finds himself in the middle of it.
Back in early December, Pruitt’s hiring received a warm reception. This had little to do with his credentials and everything to do with Rocky Top’s PTSD after the John Currie/Greg Schiano saga. In essence, the praise for Pruitt’s arrival was amped up due to circumstance rather than the actual quality of the hire.
Regardless, Pruitt and his staff managed to salvage a depleted recruiting class during the early signing period. This was accomplished despite Pruitt’s commitment to Alabama during the College Football Playoff.
Once Pruitt and his coaching staff began marking its territory and pursuing recruits, the anticipating heading into National Signing Day reached soaring heights.
And now, Vol Nation finds itself in another match of tug-of-war — one side claiming Pruitt’s first recruiting cycle was a success, while the other fuming over what could have been.
In all reality, any criticism against Pruitt over his performance in the 2018 recruiting cycle is mystifying.
Yet, it isn’t surprising, considering the source — a segment of a fan base so desperate for success that reasonable expectations are thrown out the window and the glory days of the 1990s fill every corner of their mind.
This mindset doesn’t do a first-year head coach any favors, especially when he’s in charge of orchestrating a recruiting gameplan for the first time in his career.
It’s arrogance at its highest level to suggest that Tennessee — fresh off a 4-8 season — can stroll into any recruit’s home and sweep them away from established programs.
That’s not how recruiting works.
Recruiting, like anything in sports, is a process. And given the circumstances surrounding Tennessee football, the process was in no position to accelerate.
Remember, Jeremy Pruitt has never, not once, not even for a split second, roamed the sidelines as a head coach. Regardless of Tennessee’s magnitude as a brand, convincing 5-star prospects to switch from a Georgia team that nearly won a National Championship last season to a 4-8 Tennessee squad is wishful thinking.
That’s putting it nicely.
Given the situation he walked into, Pruitt essentially maxed out Tennessee’s 2018 recruiting class.
Was it far-fetched to suggest the Vols had an upper-hand over Georgia in regards to linebacker Quay Walker? Perhaps, but his emphatic toss of a Tennessee hat during his announcement reveals maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t seriously considering the Vols.
Wide receiver Jacob Copeland was all over the map and eventually chose Florida. Tennessee is responsible for the discovery of wide receiver Jordan Young, and even he flipped from the Orange and White to Florida State. Isaac Taylor-Stuart wore Tennessee gear all day, but opted to remain on the West Coast at USC.
Yet, despite the misses, Pruitt and staff also solidified its class with added depth on the defensive side of the ball, arguably Tennessee’s biggest issue over the past two seasons.
At the end of the day, Pruitt’s “failures” during National Signing Day have more to do with timing than anything else. He had the unenviable task of convincing Alabama recruits to follow him to Knoxville, while also selling a program he has yet to build.
Despite those hurdles, Pruitt still compiled a top-25 class.
Given how low the program sunk only a few months ago, that’s impressive.
Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics