The Tennessee Vols won’t be an elite college football team in 2019, but it won’t be because of their head coach.

Jeremy Pruitt, who is entering his second season as UT’s head football coach, met with the media on Thursday and he sounded like a man on a mission.

More importantly, he sound like an elite football coach.

There’s a certain confidence that exudes from Pruitt that a lot of coaches try to make folks believe they have. Most coaches try too hard to convince media members, and fans, that they know exactly what they’re doing. They like to make us believe they have an infallible plan.

And almost always, their plan is anything but infallible.

In Pruitt’s case, however, I can’t help but believe that his high level of confidence isn’t an act (you know, like the act that Butch Jones put on for nearly five years). He comes across as brutally honest, so when he starts showing confidence in his team, it makes me believe that Tennessee might actually show some significant improvement in 2019.

Pruitt showed complete confidence in his coaching staff on Thursday, calling it the “best staff in the country”. And again, this wasn’t just lip service from Pruitt. He acknowledged that he’s been on some great staffs (from Alabama, to Florida State to Georgia and back to Alabama) and that he still believes this is the best staff in the country.

I believe him.

Partly because I believe in the staff he’s hired (adding Jim Chaney, Tee Martin and Derrick Ansley to an already solid staff is impressive).

And partly because Pruitt has been nothing but straightforward since he arrived at Tennessee. If something’s terrible, he’s not going to try to shine it up for his press conferences. He’s going to call it terrible.

That’s what elite coaches do. They’re consistent. They’re honest. They’re confident.

And if you listen to those coaches, they’ll tell you all you need to know about their team.

Listening to Pruitt a year ago, we knew the Vols were a fringe bowl team that would show some flashes of being decent, along with some flashes of being terrible. That’s exactly what we got, too.

This season, however, Pruitt’s message about his team has been a lot more optimistic. He sounds like he believes in his team’s ability to compete in the SEC East.

Now, does that mean they’re going to challenge Georgia for the SEC East division title?

Almost certainly not.

But they could do something crazy like knock off Florida in the Swamp. Or they might get hot and finish second or third in the East.

The only thing holding Tennessee back from being an elite program is the talent gap between them and the already elite programs. They have the coaching. They also have a good plan in place. Now they just need to get their roster caught up to programs like Alabama and Georgia. Then we’ll see something special from the Vols.

UT isn’t there yet. But they probably aren’t as far away as you might think.

Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

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