The 2020 season is undoubtedly going to be a strange one for the Tennessee Vols and the rest of the SEC.
There’s a 10 game conference only schedule, a limit on how many fans can attend games, and a whole lot of uncertainty.
And the Vols may be better equipped than their SEC rivals to handle all of it.
That’s because of UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt and his high school coaching background.
Pruitt spent nearly ten years as an assistant at various high schools before getting a shot as the director of player development under Nick Saban at Alabama in 2007.
Being a high school coach isn’t exactly glamorous. In addition to being an assistant coach, there’s usually a host of other duties (mowing grass, keeping up with equipment, teaching, etc).
That kind of experience will be beneficial in a year where Tennessee (and the rest of college football) has no clue what to expect. There could be a week where a team isn’t able to practice, but they still play on Saturday. Or there could be a week where half of the running back group is absent because of COVID-19 exposure. The potential for unusual situations this season is limitless.
Pruitt’s ability to adapt — something he had to constantly do as a high school football coach — will give Tennessee a definite advantage over some of the other SEC coaches who don’t have that same experience to rely on.
And it’s something that Pruitt realizes could be beneficial.
“You’ve got to be creative. I feel like if it gets to that point, my high school background will probably create an advantage for us,” said Pruitt on Tuesday during a virtual media session with reporters.
“It’s the reason we practice the way we practice, is to develop the entire team. We’ve always done that, so we’ll continue to do that, and it gives everybody an opportunity to continue to grow as a player.”
Pruitt and his staff recruit players to play certain positions. But in 2020, players may be forced to do some things differently. If that happens, Pruitt will be ready — he’s spent a lot of time trying to figure out where high school players fit best on a year to year basis.
In fact, it’s something Pruitt dealt with every year as a high school football coach. He wasn’t able to pick and choose his players, so he had put kids where they fit best.
“There’s some years that the three-technique weighs 300 pounds and there’s some years that he weighs 150,” said Pruitt in December 2017 during his introductory press conference when discussing his high school coaching background.
(While I don’t think we’ll see Bryce Thompson lining up at defensive tackle, it’s still nice for UT fans to know that Pruitt has the ability to adapt in extreme circumstances.)
College football coaches are used to doing things a certain way. When that process is disrupted, it can create chaos.
Pruitt, however, knows how to thrive in these situations (just look at how things turned around after the Vols’ chaotic 0-2 start in 2019).
It’s weird to think that anyone could gain an advantage this season. But Tennessee, because of Pruitt, just might.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports/Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports