One of the main reasons the Tennessee Vols hired Jeremy Pruitt in late 2017 to be the program’s head football coach is because they believed he could achieve longterm success in Knoxville.
Long term success in college football, however, is fleeting. Very few programs are actually able to achieve it.
For the coaches who are able to achieve it, though, there seems to be one overwhelming trait they all share.
The willingness to adapt.
And it’s a trait that Pruitt appears to possess.
Unlike his predecessor, Butch Jones, Pruitt has already displayed an ability to change his approach based on the situation at hand.
There are numerous examples of this. For one, he gave up defensive play calling duties to defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley. The reason for this was to help free up Pruitt to handle more of the game day head coach responsibilities. Pruitt recognized that giving the play calling duties to Ansley would allow him to be a better head coach.
Hiring Jim Chaney, a longtime offensive coordinator with an established offensive identity, is another way that Pruitt showed a willingness to adapt.
Now, obviously Pruitt has a lot of input in the play calling approach on both the defensive and offensive sides of the ball. But he doesn’t micromanage — he lets his coaches coach. That wasn’t the case under Jones. The best hire that was made during the Butch era (defensive coordinator Bob Shoop), wasn’t allowed to shine at Tennessee because of Jones’ inability to let Shoop do his job.
Of course, the ability to adapt is most important on game day — and Pruitt has absolutely showed everyone he can adapt on the fly on game days.
Putting Jauan Jennings in the wildcat formation to start the South Carolina game was a bold move. But it was something that Pruitt and his staff felt gave them a good chance to move the ball. They also let Jennings throw the ball on their first drive (which was negated by an illegal man downfield penalty). The willingness to get creative is something that will serve Pruitt well for years to come.
I think we’ve also seen Pruitt’s ability to adapt in the way he’s handled the quarterback situation this season. While it hasn’t necessarily been popular, we’ve seen Pruitt try various things with the quarterbacks to try to win games. He’s started a true freshman, he’s benched a veteran, he’s gave an inexperienced redshirt freshman a chance. Pruitt’s also brought the veteran back into the mix. All the mixing and matching has resulted in a couple of SEC wins and a much needed (albeit not exciting) win against UAB.
Without Pruitt’s willingness to adapt as the season has progressed, I’m not sure the Vols have four wins. In fact, I’m not sure they have more than two wins.
There’s obviously a lot that goes into a building a successful football program. Hiring good people and recruiting good players are the most important things. But the game of football is constantly evolving. It’s imperative that programs evolve as well.
I think it’s clear that Pruitt recognizes that constantly adapting, whether it’s in the middle of a game or just in general throughout the years, is necessary to reach the top of the college football world and stay there.
Will Pruitt be able to lead Tennessee to the summit?
It’s impossible to know. But he has the right tools to make it happen.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports