I did not expect to be writing about Jeremy Pruitt and whether or not he should be fired as the Tennessee Vols head coach this year.
Just a few months ago, I was writing about Pruitt’s extension and why it was a good move for Tennessee.
At the time, it certainly felt like a good move. Tennessee got off to a rough start in 2019, but Pruitt was able to right the ship. The Vols showed improvement and reeled off six straight wins to end the season.
Pruitt winning eight games in his second season ever as a head coach was enough to make me forget about the disastrous losses to Georgia State and BYU last season.
But six games into the 2020 season and I’ve completely changed my opinion.
I’m officially out on Pruitt at Tennessee. I don’t think he’s the guy. I’m not even sure he should be a head coach.
Sure, I like the guy. I think he has a wealth of football knowledge. But I don’t think he has what it takes to be a head coach. I think he’s very similar to a lot of former Nick Saban assistants (like Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain). He just doesn’t quite have what it takes to be the CEO of a program.
It’s been incredibly evident this season. The Vols have regressed after 2019 and there’s zero reason that should be the case (spare me the pandemic excuse, everyone is dealing with the same challenges).
Tennessee has an offensive line loaded with five-star talent that’s under-performing. There’s been zero quarterback development in three years. And the secondary — which is supposed to be Pruitt’s speciality — has massively underachieved.
When you combine all of that with the insane amount of coaching turnover we’ve seen at Tennessee the last three years, it’s clear that Pruitt is in over his head.
Pruitt is notoriously hard to work with. We saw a glimpse of that in the loss to Arkansas on Saturday when Pruitt was captured screaming at quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke after an unplanned timeout.
When you’re Nick Saban and you’re winning championships at Alabama, you can be hard to work with and get by with it.
When you’re trying to rebuild a program, it’s probably not going to work out too well.
Another concern about Pruitt is his lack of a clear plan — specifically with quarterbacks.
Against Arkansas, it felt like Pruitt was just trying random things to see what worked. And none of it worked — until the end of the game when true freshman Harrison Bailey finally got a shot. Bailey took what the defense gave him and marched the Vols right down the field. Why didn’t Bailey get a shot sooner? Why did sophomore quarterback Brian Maurer get a series of handoffs and then get pulled? What is Pruitt’s thought process when it comes to the quarterback position? No one knows and that’s concerning.
Ultimately, there are just too many red flags for Pruitt at this point. The losses early last season. The losses to Kentucky and Arkansas this season. The inability to close the gap at all with top programs in the SEC East. It all paints a picture of a coach that’s on his way out.
And by the way, there were plenty of red flags with Pruitt before he took the job at Tennessee, too. We just all ignored those red flags (I know I did).
Here’s an example of one of those red flags, via the Savannah Morning News:
“There wasn’t no, ‘You’re the head coach, I ain’t going to talk to you this way,’” said Amarlo Herrera, who played linebacker under Pruitt in 2014. “He’s going to say how he feels and he’s going to coach the same way with the same passion the whole time. He’s just a passionate guy.”
Michael Bennett, a wide receiver on the 2014 team, remembers Pruitt challenging Richt in practice “a few times.”
That included confrontations in coaches’ meeting rooms. Pruitt was warned about not overstepping his bounds.
There’s passion and then there’s knowing how to run a program effectively.
I think it’s pretty clear that Pruitt needs some help with the latter.
This is who Pruitt is as a coach. It’s not going to change. Tennessee will never be a championship-contending program with him at the helm.
It’s time to move on and, unfortunately, fire up another coaching search on Rocky Top.
Featured image via Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports/Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports