The Tennessee Vols announced on Thursday that head coach Jeremy Pruitt has received a two-year extension that includes a $400,000 annual raise.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pruitt is not accepting the $400,000 raise in 2020.
“Jeremy and I were close to finalizing his extension early this year,” said Vols athletic director Phillip Fulmer in a statement. “But once the pandemic hit and we learned more and more about its potential impact on the department, Jeremy informed me that he preferred not to accept a raise for this year.”
An extension for Pruitt this year was always going to happen. It was never a matter of “if”, it was “when”. The pandemic obviously altered the original timeline, but it ended up getting done before the start of the 2020 season.
Unsurprisingly, I’ve already seen some pushback from a small number of fans about the extension.
“What has Pruitt done to deserve a raise/extension” is the bulk of the pushback.
And I get it. It’s not like Pruitt has exceeded expectations. In his first two years, Pruitt has done exactly what Tennessee is paying him to do. There was a slight improvement in 2018. And then the program took another step forward in 2019.
Pretty much what everyone was hoping would happen when Pruitt was hired, right?
So why the raise?
Well, it’s not necessarily because Pruitt is doing a better job than Fulmer and Tennessee expected. It’s because they fully believe Pruitt is the guy that can return the Vols to a championship level.
And if Fulmer sees it, then plenty of other programs see it.
I’m not saying that I expect another program to swoop in and steal Pruitt from the Vols anytime soon. But eventually — if Pruitt continues on an upward trajectory at UT — phone calls will be made to Pruitt’s agent. Maybe it’s Alabama. Or maybe it’s another program. Maybe it’s the NFL (though I wouldn’t anticipate that, given NFL franchise’s typically going with offensive-minded head coaches these days).
Whoever it is, the call will be taken by Pruitt’s agent. Maybe it goes nowhere. Or perhaps Pruitt ends up having to make a tough decision. That’s an impossible scenario to predict, but it’s a scenario that will likely happen at some point.
In college football, a program has a good head coach until they don’t. Basically, programs are either firing a head coach or they’re actively working to keep him as their head coach, which means raises/extensions.
Now, I don’t think Pruitt is on the verge of leaving Tennessee or anything like that. And I don’t see him going anywhere in the next several years, regardless of what success he finds in the coming seasons. But if/when the call comes, don’t you think Tennessee would feel better about their chances of holding on to Pruitt if they’ve already proved to him that he’s badly wanted in East Tennessee?
Frequent raises/extensions for coaches who are simply doing what they’re expected to do is part of college football now. Whether you like it or not, this is how the business side of the sport works.
And it’s why the Vols had no choice but to go ahead and put a little more cash in Pruitt’s pocket, even if he was already getting paid to do exactly what he’s doing.
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