New Tennessee Vols head coach Josh Heupel is different than his predecessor Jeremy Pruitt in a lot of ways.

There are the obvious differences — Heupel is an offensive guy, sports hair on his head, and probably understands the difference between asparagus and celery.

And then there are the subtle differences.

Pruitt and Heupel are both “player’s coaches”. Pruitt did a lot of things wrong at Tennessee, but he almost always did right by his players.

Heupel, who constantly preaches “family” and “brotherhood”, is similar to Pruitt when it comes to being a player’s coach.

But there’s one major difference in the approach of Heupel that I think Tennessee will benefit from in the coming years.

Publicly, Pruitt didn’t praise his players very often. In fact, he usually seemed annoyed after practices. The energy emitting from Pruitt usually wasn’t positive.

Heupel only has a few spring practices at Tennessee under his belt, but I can already see a big difference in his energy and approach after practices.

The new Tennessee head coach isn’t afraid to point out specific players that are performing well.

After the Vols’ fifth spring practice, Heupel pointed out several wide receivers that he’s excited about.

 Heupel: “Cedric Tillman has done a fantastic job of just being really purposeful in his work habits on the practice field. He’s playing faster as he’s getting more comfortable from day one to day five. Velus Jones (Jr.) has done a tremendous job. He’s a really strong competitor and brings a great amount of leadership to that wide receiver group every day in the meeting rooms, and that’s transitioned onto the practice field as well. Jimmy Calloway is having a good spring and a good start here. He’s a guy that is learning how to play with technique and with what we’re asking him to do. He’s getting better every day.”

If Tennessee is going to win a lot of games under Heupel, then the players have to be confident in their abilities. If they don’t play with confidence, they won’t win.

It’s a lot easier to have confidence when the head coach is publicly supporting players. It’s a small detail that could help the Vols’ roster improve in a big way.

Now, it’s not like Heupel is out there just recklessly praising guys and inflating their egos, either. He’s also making it clear that Tennessee still has a long way to go.

“I would never use the word ‘satisfied’ or ‘completely happy’ with any position when you’re five days into spring ball,” said Heupel on Friday. “But I like the purpose that those guys are playing with, and they’re starting to trust in what we’re doing. They’re starting to play with better technique which will give them the opportunity to go win down the football field.”

So far, I think Heupel’s attitude is exactly what Tennessee’s football program needed.

Pruitt’s approach clearly didn’t work. Going the opposite direction was a wise move by athletic director Danny White.

It’s still early, but I think we’ll see that decision pay off this fall.

Featured image via Tennessee athletic communications
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