The Tennessee Vols and Florida Gators each had lackluster four win seasons in 2017 that resulted in both programs firing their head coaches.
On paper, it looked like the Vols and Gators were in similar positions entering the 2018 season — two programs with talented players who underachieved under the previous coaching staffs.
But after watching Florida knock off a top five LSU team on Saturday evening, it’s clear that Tennessee is still well behind the Gators.
And while that probably doesn’t sit well with Tennessee fans, it shouldn’t be concerning.
Florida had a bad year in 2017, but the foundation of the program was in a much, much better place than Tennessee’s. The wheels kind of fell off for the Gators in Jim McElwain’s final games.
McElwain was fired after Florida lost three straight games to quality teams. Things just got worse under interim head coach Randy Shannon.
Had McElwain handled himself better in the media (there were some weird moments early in the season) the Gators probably could’ve finished with a winning record in 2017. Remember, Florida was only a year removed from back-to-back SEC East division championships when McElwain was fired.
Disaster is an understatement to describe the Vols in 2017
The Vols, on the other hand, were a complete mess in 2017. That’s because all of the bandaids covering up Butch Jones’ extreme deficiencies as a head coach were gone last season. The departure of Josh Dobbs, Derek Barnett, Alvin Kamara, Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone, Cam Sutton and Jalen Reeves-Maybin lifted the veil on Jones and exposed him for what he was — a mediocre (at best) coach who climbed the coaching ladder by riding the coattails of Brian Kelly.
New Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt inherited a team that had no clue how to even practice, let alone win games. There was no foundation to build on for Pruitt.
Let’s put it this way — as far as the on-field product goes, Pruitt is essentially starting a new program. And new programs don’t often find success.
And let’s not forget that Pruitt is a first time head coach. While I think he has one of the best football minds in the college game, he’s still figuring it all out. He also has a first time offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen, however, has nearly a decade of head coaching experience. He has a good idea of what works and what doesn’t work. He also has a defensive coordinator who has over ten years of experience leading defenses (both at the collegiate level and in the NFL).
The fact that Florida is finding early success shouldn’t be surprising to Tennessee fans, it should be expected.
Mullen is an established coach, the Gators already had a solid foundation, and Tennessee was in the worst shape in the history of the program when Pruitt took over.
All situations aren’t created equal, which means it’s impossible (and foolish) to compare Florida and Tennessee.
Vol fans shouldn’t pay attention to what Florida or any other program is doing right now. Instead, they should focus on the improvements Tennessee is making. I think we saw last week against Georgia that UT is indeed making progress. It might be slow progress, but it’s progress nonetheless.
Enjoy the ascent, Vol fans.
Because I’m confident the descent is finally over.
Featured image via 247Sports/Tampa Bay Times