The Tennessee Vols football program is on the rise.
This isn’t the first time I’ve typed those words, but for once it doesn’t feel forced.
Jeremy Pruitt, who was hired in late 2017, has the program moving in the right direction.
And I don’t think there’s anyone who can suggest otherwise.
Year one of the Pruitt era in 2018 gave fans a slight improvement over 2017, and a signature win (on the road against Auburn). In 2019, the Vols overcame a tough start to the season to finish with an 8-5 record (only the third time in the last decade the Vols won at least eight games). They also closed the season with a six-game winning streak (the second-longest winning streak in the nation for a Power-5 program, behind only LSU).
So what’s next for Tennessee? When will they take another step forward?
Unfortunately for fans, it could be one more year before the Vols are truly ready to compete on a national level.
Former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, who won a national championship with the Tigers in 2010, recently gave his opinion on Pruitt and the state of the program.
And he had some glowing praise.
“I think Jeremy Pruitt is a heck of a football coach. I think he understands not just the game, he understands players, putting them in a position to succeed and win,” said Chizik during a recent appearance on WMNL in Knoxville.
Chizik noted that Tennessee was one of the hottest teams in the nation to close the 2019 season, but also suggested that the program needs one more year of culture change before truly breaking out.
“This is still a culture shift. Year 3, you’re still in a culture shift”, explained Chizik
“By the end of Year 3, you’re going to really see things start to swing and they’re really going to grab some people’s attention by the end of Year 3 for Jeremy Pruitt.”
Chizik, by the way, is one of the few analysts who were still on board the Pruitt train after the tough start in 2019.
“I want to make this clear to everybody out there who has painted the narrative that this is a bad football team. Have they played great? Not necessarily, but this team will win some games,” said Chizik after Tennessee’s beat Chattanooga to improve to 1-2 last year.
He was right. The Vols got hot and won some big games.
Maybe it’s worth listening to what he has to say about Pruitt and Tennessee.
If Chizik’s right, 2021 could be a big year for the Vols.
Featured image via Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports/Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports