While nothing is certain in college football, it appears that Jeremy Pruitt will return as the head coach of the Tennessee Vols in 2021.
Athletic director Phillip Fulmer believes Pruitt deserves a fourth year to right the ship on Rocky Top.
Whether or not this is the right move is another question — one we won’t know the answer to until this time next year.
Based on social media posts, there are plenty of fans who want to move on from Pruitt. But there are also a large number of fans who believe Pruitt deserves more time.
Regardless of where you stand on Pruitt, one thing is certain — Vol fans will rally around him if he proves in 2021 that he’s a championship-caliber head coach.
I think there are three things Pruitt can do (or attempt to do) heading into the 2021 season that would make fans feel a lot better about his ability to turn the Vols into SEC East contenders.
1. Fire Chris Weinke
I think this one is pretty obvious. Chris Weinke has been a complete failure as a quarterbacks coach at Tennessee. Of course, that shouldn’t be a surprise — Weinke didn’t fare too well in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams, either.
Jarrett Guarantano was a redshirt senior in 2020 and he didn’t look any better after two years with Weinke as his position coach. The same goes for sophomore Brian Maurer and redshirt sophomore JT Shrout (who has now transferred to Colorado).
If Pruitt is going to survive at Tennessee, he’s going to need excellent quarterback play. I think it’s clear that Weinke isn’t getting the most out of UT’s quarterbacks. If Weinke returns with Pruitt in 2021, it’s not going to sit well with most fans.
2. Find a way to land Arik Gilbert
Tight end Arik Gilbert was one of the crown jewels of the 2020 recruiting class. The former five-star recruit was rated as the No. 5 overall player in the nation.
Gilbert signed with LSU and played in eight games this past season, catching 35 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns. The Georgia native is an athletic freak who is a mismatch for nearly every defender on the field. He’s too big for a defensive back to cover and he’s too fast for a linebacker. Gilbert would be an instant difference-maker for the Vols.
What are the chances of Gilbert landing in Knoxville?
Probably not great, but there’s at least a small chance.
— Mike Farrell (@rivalsmike) December 30, 2020
Gilbert opted out of the 2020 season with just a couple of games remaining. For now, it’s unclear what Gilbert will do in 2021.
But if he leaves Baton Rouge, Tennessee is a landing spot that would make some sense. Gilbert’s quarterback in high school was Harrison Bailey, who is expected to be the starter for Tennessee in 2021.
Would the duo want to reunite? It’s certainly possible. But Georgia and Florida would also heavily pursue Gilbert if he leaves LSU.
If Pruitt somehow lands Gilbert it would show fans that players still believe in his vision. Getting a player as talented as Gilbert would absolutely ease some of the concerns that fans have about Pruitt.
3. Revolutionize the offense
Tennessee’s offense was dreadful in more ways than one last season.
The Vols’ offense was ranked No. 108 in the nation (21.5 points per game). That’s not going to get it done in the SEC.
Even when things went right for Tennessee’s offense, it was still incredibly boring to watch. There was no spark, no innovation.
Pruitt needs to update the offense. I’m not completely out on Jim Chaney as an offensive coordinator, but I think he needs some help.
Tee Martin currently serves as the Vols’ passing game coordinator. But his contract is up this month and there are rumblings he won’t return. Even if he does return, though, I don’t think he’s the passing game coordinator the Vols need. If he didn’t get it done at USC, why should we think he’ll get it done at Tennessee? I know he’s a beloved former Vol, but that doesn’t automatically make him a great coach.
Pruitt would be wise to get tight ends coach Joe Osovet — an RPO guru — more involved in the offense. Or maybe go hire DJ Mangas from the Carolina Panthers and make him the wide receivers coach (or quarterbacks coach, depending on how staff changes shake out) and the new passing game coordinator (Mangas is a former LSU offensive analyst that was Joe Brady’s right-hand man in 2019).
There are several different options for Pruitt when it comes to updating the offense. Pruitt just can’t go into 2021 with the same plan he had in 2020. Otherwise, he won’t get a fifth year in Knoxville.
Featured image via Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK