While some fans viewed the Tennessee Vols’ 2018 recruiting class as a success, others felt it was a complete disaster.
The Vols, when it was all said and done, ended up with the No. 20 class in the nation.
I tried to refrain from any sizzling hot takes on the subject, instead giving myself a few days to ponder how I viewed Jeremy Pruitt’s first recruiting class as a head coach.
After a few days, I’m still not 100 percent sure what to think.
On one hand, I think Pruitt did a remarkable job getting Tennessee in the mix for the several of the nation’s top recruits. And he did a great job of evaluating talent (Florida State needs to send the UT staff a thank you note for wide receiver Jordan Young).
But he wasn’t able to close on some of those top recruits (except for JJ Peterson, the Vols withstood a last hour run from Alabama with him) and that’s what stings for Vol fans. Perhaps if Tennessee wasn’t in the mix for some of those top recruits then the 2018 recruiting class would be viewed a bit different, but I digress.
While I was contemplating Pruitt’s first class, I decided to take a look at the first classes of successful coaches at their respective schools.
(I added a couple of newer coaches for reference.)
Here’s what I found.
- Nick Saban — 21 (LSU, 2000)
- Les Miles — 14 (LSU, 2005)
- Nick Saban — 12 (Alabama, 2007)
- Dabo Swinney — 36 (Clemson, 2009)
- Will Muschamp — 11 (Florida, 2011)
- Gus Malzahn — 10 (Auburn, 2013)
- Butch Jones — 25 (Tennessee, 2013)
- Chris Petersen — 38 (Washington, 2014)
- Jim McElwain — 21 (Florida, 2015)
- Kirby Smart — 6 (Georgia, 2016)
- Will Muschamp — 25 (South Carolina, 2016)
- Tom Herman — 25 (Texas, 2017)
- Dan Mullen — 14 (Florida, 2018)
- Jimbo Fischer — 17 (Texas A&M, 2018)
- Matt Luke — 31 (Ole Miss, 2018)
- Chad Morris — 49 (Arkansas, 2018)
Alright so a few observations here.
The only first time head coaches on this list are Dabo Swinney at Clemson, Will Muschamp at Florida, Kirby Smart at Georgia and Matt Luke at Ole Miss.
Gus Malzahn had only been a head for one year (at Arkansas State) before taking over at Auburn.
I think it’s important to look at the situations these coaches inherited. Kirby Smart took over a Georgia team that was coming off back to back 10 win seasons.
Will Muschamp took over a team that had won two national championships in the previous five seasons. And Gus Malzahn took over a team that had won a national championship just two years prior (and Malzahn was the offensive coordinator on the championship team).
The only coaches on this list who had a situation similar to Pruitt’s were Nick Saban in 2007, Dabo Swinney in 2009, Butch Jones in 2013 and Tom Herman in 2017.
Saban is obviously the outlier here, but even he took over a team that was just two years removed from a 10 win season.
Jones ended up with a top five class just two years after his initial class at Tennessee and Herman landed a top three class this year. That shows us that judging a coach’s recruiting abilities by their first class at a new school isn’t always a wise idea.
How should we view Pruitt’s first class?
Pruitt didn’t walk into a great situation. That’s the entire reason the Vols had to go the coordinator route in the first place. They were turned down by practically every sitting head coach they spoke with. The perception of Tennessee’s football program in early December was as negative as it’s ever been.
No coach on this list took over a team that was 4-8, had their athletic director fired after going rogue, and suffered the negative publicity that Butch Jones provided with his “fell on a helmet” lies and possible concussion negligence.
I’m not trying to be a cheerleader for Pruitt. I have no clue how he’ll work out at Tennessee. For what it’s worth, I think he’ll do pretty good. But I have no way of knowing that for sure.
There’s been a lot of excuses made over the years for Tennessee football. I get it. From Lane Kiffin bolting in January, to Derek Dooley not recruiting enough offensive linemen, we’ve heard them all.
But I think Pruitt deserves some credit for holding a recruiting class together during a very uncertain time on Rocky Top.
Pruitt recently promised that next season, Tennessee’s recruiting class would be “right at the top”.
Maybe we should withhold judgement until he’s completed his first year on the field and signed his first full recruiting class.
Then we can cast stones all we want.
Featured image via Gridiron Now