Athletic director Phillip Fulmer hired Jeremy Pruitt in late 2017 to be the Tennessee Vols’ new head coach mainly because of Pruitt’s track record of success as a defensive coordinator at Florida State, Georgia and Alabama.
But we’d all be fools to think that Pruitt’s long relationship with Nick Saban, one of the most successful college football coaches of all time, didn’t factor into Fulmer’s decision to hire the Rainsville, AL native.
Saban, much like his close friend Bill Belichick, has seen a litany of former assistants become head coaches. Of course, simply serving as an assistant under Saban doesn’t guarantee success.
While Kirby Smat has found early success at Georgia, Jim McElwain and Derek Dooley are both former Saban assistants who were fired after landing head coaching gigs in the SEC (Will Muschamp was fired at Florida, but managed to reestablish himself at South Carolina).
The Saban influence
Obviously, any former Saban assistant who is hired as a head coach is going to implement a lot of Saban’s techniques and strategies.
But any coach who is going to have major success in college football has to develop their own identity.
And that includes Pruitt.
When Pruitt first arrived at Tennessee, he was pretty much a Saban clone. He had the same no-nonsense attitude that Saban portrays in the media and even used Saban’s trademark “aight” quite a bit during his early press conferences.
Pruitt also enacted Saban’s stern policy of not allowing assistant coaches to speak to the media. Over the years, even when Dooley was the head coach, Vols fans grew accustomed to regularly hearing Tennessee’s assistant coaches speak to reporters.
But that wasn’t the case during Pruitt’s first year plus on the job.
It might seem like a small thing, but letting the assistants speak to reporters for a few minutes each week doesn’t take much time out of their schedule. And it allows them to connect with fans better (Pruitt certainly wants the fans involved with the program).
That’s why I was surprised this week when Pruitt let his assistants speak to reporters seemingly out of nowhere. UT sends out an e-mail each week with media availability and when I saw assistant coaches listed, I was shocked.
“I see a star emerging in front of our eyes.”
“The vision for the future is very bright.”@Vol_Football co-defensive coordinator Chris Rumph and quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke have some thoughts about Jeremy Pruitt in year two. You’re gonna wanna hear ’em. #Vols pic.twitter.com/uIBRWnXWgH
— Marc Whiteman (@MarcWhiteman) April 10, 2019
Now, I don’t know if this is going to become a regular thing under Pruitt. Maybe it just means he will sporadically let his assistants speak with reporters. We don’t know yet. But I do think it’s a great sign for Pruitt as a coach. Not because I think suddenly allowing assistants to speak to the media is going to help the football team win more games, but because it shows that Pruitt is growing comfortable as a head coach. He’s becoming “Jeremy Pruitt the head coach” not “Nick Saban’s former assistant Jeremy Pruitt the head coach”.
Pruitt is in the infancy of his career as a head coach. The jury is still out on whether or not he will ultimately be successful.
But so far, I like his approach. There were a lot of questions when Pruitt was hired about whether or not he’d be able to handle being the “CEO” of a program (looking at you Aaron Murray).
I think he’s proved he’s quite capable of being the face of UT football.
Not Pruitt just needs to win some games.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports