Tennessee Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt knew he was getting into a tough situation when he agreed to become UT’s 26th head football coach in late 2017.
But he probably didn’t realize just how tough the early years would be.
Losing to Georgia State and BYU probably wasn’t on Pruitt’s agenda in year two. Of course, that’s how it goes in sports — adversity always strikes.
Dealing with adversity, however, can be tricky. Pruitt’s done a fantastic job this season of keeping his team together and focused. And it’s starting to pay off. The Vols have actually looked like a really good football team in recent weeks.
Tennessee’s win against South Carolina this past weekend gave us a glimpse of what we can expect on a regular basis in the future from a Pruitt led football team.
But the Vols’ recent surge isn’t the most impressive thing I’ve seen from Pruitt this season.
What coaching is really about
Redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano entered the 2019 season as Tennessee’s starting quarterback. Prior to the season, Pruitt expressed an abundance of confidence in Guarantano, even calling him the team’s only for sure starter at one point.
— Marshall Hughes (@marshallhughes) July 16, 2019
Guarantano, however, struggled early in the season, eventually losing his starting job to true freshman Brian Maurer.
After Maurer was injured in the Vols’ loss to Alabama, Guarantano’s number was called again.
That’s when Guarantano infamously ran a quarterback sneak instead of the play that was called by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. After the botched sneak (which resulted in a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Alabama), Pruitt grabbed Guarantano’s facemask as the Vols quarterback approached the sideline.
In this moment, there were plenty of folks who wondered if Guarantano had played his last snap at Tennessee.
What is this sticking his finger in Guarantano’s face mask? Not good. pic.twitter.com/3P8NfFv3IH
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) October 20, 2019
But that’s not even close to what’s happened.
Pruitt said after the game that UT still needed Guarantano. He also said that Guarantano, moving forward, would help the Vols win some games.
And Pruitt was right.
Guarantano was a key ingredient in Tennessee’s win against South Carolina. Pruitt even said that he thought Guarantano played his best football of the season against the Gamecocks.
Pruitt: I thought Jarrett Guarantano played his best game of the year. … the throw to Jennings was as good a throw you’ll see and that’s the Jarrett I’ve seen in practice. It was good to see. Now he needs to do it again.
— Volquest Staff (@Volquest_Rivals) October 28, 2019
It would’ve been easy for Pruitt to give up on Guarantano. After all, it seems likely that Guarantano, who has one season of eligibility remaining, will leave Tennessee after this season and finish his college career elsewhere. Pruitt moving on from Guarantano, especially after his quarterback sneak moment against Alabama, wouldn’t be shocking.
But that’s not how Pruitt rolls. He truly cares about Guarantano as a person. And it’s evident in the way he talks about Guarantano. Pruitt can be critical (that’s his job as a head coach), but he’s always been careful to also make sure he instills confidence in his players.
Jeremy Pruitt said that Jarrett Guarantano would help the #Vols win games this season, he was right.
This moment was special. pic.twitter.com/Qpwxgc2ZaZ
— Jordan Crammer (@JordanCrammer) October 26, 2019
That approach has paid off for Pruitt on the field and off the field. It’s why players and recruits trust him so much. It’s why Guarantano was able to come into the game against South Carolina and be effective.
I have no idea how the Pruitt era at Tennessee will play out, but I think it’s quite obvious that the Volunteers have a man of high character serving as their head coach.
And that’s something you can’t put a price on.
Featured image via Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports