For the last decade, fans of the Tennessee Vols have been hoping to see their beloved football program return to national prominence.
The three coaches hired after Phillip Fulmer’s unceremonious dismissal each failed in their own unique way.
Lane Kiffin was suppose to inject new life in the program, but he left after one season.
Derek Dooley was a hail mary when everyone else said no, and he turned out to be who most folks thought he’d be — a sub .500 football coach.
Butch Jones was suppose to revive the program with his numerous slogans and attempts to market the hell out of UT. But he ended up being the football version of a confidence man.
So it’s understandable, after three failed attempts to return Tennessee football to glory, if some fans are hesitant about Jeremy Pruitt’s ability to around the beleaguered program. The fact that Pruitt went 5-7 in his first season (the same record as Jones’ first season) is even more reason for hesitancy.
But I think fans should feel confident that big things are in the near future for the Vols. And not just because of Pruitt’s accomplishments as a defensive coordinator at Florida State, Georgia and Alabama.
Sure, it’s important to have a head coach who knows football as well as Pruitt, but he’s hardly the only bright football mind in the country. So that’s not ultimate reason I think fans should be optimistic.
The reason fans should expect UT football to do big things in the next five years is because Tennessee, thanks to athletic director Phillip Fulmer, is finally 100 percent committed to putting the best possible football product on the field.
Look, the secret to success in college football isn’t really that big of a secret. Hire the best people and sign the best players. It’s that simple. And there really isn’t another way. It’s not possible to cut corners, which is what Tennessee was essentially trying to do in the years before Pruitt was hired.
Fortunately for Vol fans, the days of cutting corners are in the past. Tennessee has a renewed commitment to football and they proved it this off-season.
First off, the Vols hired Jim Chaney to replace Tyson Helton as UT’s offensive coordinator. That was a big move, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected. There had been rumblings that Tennessee was interested in Chaney, and that he was interested in a return to East Tennessee, but there wasn’t a lot of movement on that front during a seemingly slow search for a new offensive coordinator. I wasn’t shocked when he was announced as the hire. But still, the fact that Tennessee was able to swipe Chaney from SEC East rival Georgia was a big deal. UT basically doubled Chaney’s salary to make sure the move happened.
The biggest thing, however, I think the Vols did this past off-season, from a “commitment to football” standpoint, was hiring Derrick Ansley to lead the defense.
Tennessee wasn’t in the market for a new defensive coordinator. And when they were searching for a new defensive backs coach, Ansley wasn’t even on my radar because he was already a well regarded position coach with the Oakland Raiders. As Pruitt said, he wasn’t available.
But the Vols made the hire happen. They put up some big money and somehow, against all odds, swayed Ansley to come back to the college game.
Jeremy Pruitt on the hire of Derrick Ansley this offseason:
“He wasn’t available, we just went and got him. He was one of the highest-paid DB coaches in the NFL. It’s kinda like recruiting. It wasn’t like he was looking for a job.”
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) May 1, 2019
Those kinds of moves are why the Vols are going to be extremely successful in the near future. Tennessee is committed to winning at all costs. They aren’t going to leave any room for excuses.
If Pruitt fails, it won’t be because of a lack of resources — he certainly has everything at Tennessee he could possibly hope for.
Including a brand new set of coordinators that should help usher in a new era of UT football.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports