Jeremy Pruitt is still the head coach of the Tennessee Vols, but I’m not sure how much longer that will be the case.
ESPN’s Mark Schlabach reported on Thursday that Tennessee is essentially under a hiring freeze while the ongoing investigation plays out.
Tennessee officials haven’t extended the contracts of assistant football coaches and have paused hiring coaches for vacancies as the Volunteers continue to investigate whether recruiting violations occurred within the program, sources told ESPN on Thursday.
This obviously isn’t a good sign for Pruitt. This means that Tennessee doesn’t know whether or not he’ll be back as the program’s head coach in 2021.
It’s starting to feel like it’s inevitable that Pruitt won’t return next season. The feeling is that Tennessee is trying find a way out of paying Pruitt’s $12 million buyout.
I’ve been quite critical of Pruitt this season — I’ve said he should be fired several times. But I also understand that firing Pruitt isn’t a guaranteed answer to the program’s woes.
And I’m afraid the Vols might be going down a very dangerous road that could set the program back even further.
This situation with Pruitt isn’t the same as the situation with Butch Jones a few years ago. Pruitt isn’t getting the results that fans would like on the field, but he hasn’t lost the locker room, either.
In fact, the players on the roster seem to love Pruitt. Sure, there have been some players leave recently, but I think we’ll see even more players (important players) leave if Pruitt is fired.
For example, Harrison Bailey’s dad recently tweeted in defense of Pruitt and insinuated that Bailey would be gone if Pruitt gets fired.
— OBailey (@OBailey5) January 4, 2021
If Bailey leaves then there’s likely no chance the Vols land LSU tight end Arik Gilbert, which was starting to look like a real possibility earlier on Thursday.
— Mike Farrell (@rivalsmike) January 7, 2021
Gilbert and Bailey played together in high school. And Gilbert has a good relationship with Pruitt. If Pruitt is gone, Gilbert almost certainly won’t land in Knoxville.
So if the Vols fire Pruitt, they risk losing a lot of talented players. And if they fire him with cause because of an internal investigation, they risk scaring off potential head coaches.
I’m not necessarily advocating for Pruitt to keep his job. I think he did a poor job in 2021 considering the talent he has.
But if Tennessee is going to go down this road, they better have their ducks in a row. They need to have a coach lined up that has experience, a plan, a potential staff, and somewhat of an existing relationship with a large portion of the Vols’ current roster.
Otherwise, Tennessee is going to end up worse off than they were before.
I know coaching searches bring hope, but it’s hard to be hopeful after watching Tennessee go through five coaches over the last 12 years without much success.
Featured image via USA TODAY SPORTS