Tennessee Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt is in the third year of his tenure at UT and things aren’t exactly going well.
After a couple of steps forward in Pruitt’s first two seasons, the Vols have taken a major step back in 2020.
Tennessee is 2-4 with inexplicable losses to Kentucky and Arkansas. They were also blown out by Georgia and Alabama — something that’s become the norm under Pruitt.
Year three is typically a make or break year for a head coach. This season, however, is a bit different because of COVID-19. Athletic departments aren’t raking in cash as they normally do (thanks to limited fans in attendance), which could make it a bit more difficult to fire a coach.
But if the Vols are going to ever be a serious contender again, they need to think longterm right now. Their decision to keep or fire Pruitt after 2020 will shape the future of the program for years to come.
South Carolina has already made their head coaching decision by firing Will Muschamp and essentially getting a head start on their coaching search. This is similar to what Florida did in 2017 with Jim McElwain (who was fired after a 3-4 start that was proceeded by two winning seasons).
Tennessee needs to make a similar decision — one way or the other.
Either the Vols view Pruitt as their long-term answer — which means they’re ok with stumbling through the wilderness for a few more seasons — or they don’t. And if they aren’t 100 percent in on Pruitt as a long-term answer, then there’s no point in delaying the inevitable.
Because here’s what happens if Tennessee doesn’t make a move with Pruitt: another SEC team will likely hire Hugh Freeze (he’s not staying at Liberty, despite his recent extension). And if it’s South Carolina, then you can just assume that UT will continue to live near the bottom of the SEC East for the foreseeable future.
The Vols need a clear plan of where to go from here. If they act as they did in late 2016 with Butch Jones, then the program is going to be teetering on the edge of disaster once again.
I’m leaning toward Pruitt not being the long-term answer. There are simply too many red flags at this point to suggest he is.
If Tennessee is going to make a move, they better not wait. They need to be decisive and quick in determining where the program goes from here.
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