Remember that extension the Tennessee Vols gave Jeremy Pruitt just before the start of the 2020 season?
In retrospect, extending a coach who lost to Georgia State and BYU in 2019 was a mistake.
Pruitt hasn’t done anything in 2020 that proves he deserved an extension. In fact, there are plenty of folks who want to see Tennessee with a new head coach in 2021.
No one does a coaching search quite like the Vols. But I don’t think we’ll be seeing another bizarre Tennessee coaching search this winter. I fully expect Pruitt to return as the Vols’ head coach next season (though anything in college football is possible, so I wouldn’t rule out Tennessee making a move).
While I think there are plenty of reasons for fans to be upset with Pruitt (losing to Kentucky and Arkansas in year three is enough to drive a lifelong Vol fan mad), I can also understand why Tennessee is hesitant to fire him.
There are no sure things in college football — beyond Nick Saban and Urban Meyer (neither of which will be an option for Tennessee, obviously).
And the 2017 coaching search should be a reminder of that.
The Vols were connected with nearly every available coach (and some that weren’t available) in 2017.
Most of the names attached to Tennessee in 2017 haven’t fared very well over the last couple of years (aside from Dan Mullen, who ended up at Florida).
I was sold on Chip Kelly or Scott Frost being sure things. I thought both would’ve been slam dunk hires for the Vols.
Kelly ended up back in the Pac-12 at UCLA and Frost went home to Nebraska. Kelly is 10-20 with the Bruins, while Frost is 11-20 (Pruitt is 16-18 so far at UT).
Remember Jeff Brohm and Chad Morris being mentioned?
Brohm has won 12 games at Purdue since being connected to the Tennessee job. Morris was fired after two seasons at Arkansas.
How about Mike Leach, who was famously almost hired by John Currie in 2017 (before Currie was fired)?
Well, Leach won 11 games in 2018 at Washington State, before winning only six in 2019. He was hired by Mississippi State after the 2019 season, where he’s won two games so far.
If you’re going to fire a head coach, you better have a sure-thing lined up. And as I said, there aren’t many sure-things in college football.
Is Hugh Freeze a sure-thing? I don’t think we can know for sure. He’s certainly a good coach. He’s one of the few head coaches that’s beat Nick Saban multiple times, but he has his flaws, too (off-the-field issues, plus his last Ole Miss team had a losing record).
Maybe the Vols could bring Gus Malzahn to Knoxville. But do you really want to hire a head coach that another SEC program felt couldn’t get the job done (though I think Auburn made a mistake firing Malzahn)?
Outside of those two names, there are guys like Billy Napier and Jamey Chadwell, who have found success at Louisiana and Coastal Carolina, respectively.
Both of those guys seem like good coaches. But so did Frost. Who’s to say they would have success in the SEC?
I’m not saying Tennessee shouldn’t move on from Pruitt — I think there’s a coach out there who can have more success on Rocky Top than Pruitt.
But identifying that coach?
Tennessee hasn’t been able to do that over the last 12 years. Why do we suddenly think they’ll get it right in 2020?
There’s danger in staying with Pruitt and there’s danger in moving on. For now, the players seem to like Pruitt. And he’s recruiting better than Auburn. I can see why the Vols wouldn’t want to risk making a worse hire.
But at the same time, is a losing season in year three really where the program wants to be?
I’m not sure what the right answer is here, but I do know the answer isn’t as clear as folks on social media like to think it is.
Good luck, Phillip Fulmer. I don’t envy you at all right now.
Featured image via Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports