It’s hard for fans of the Tennessee Vols to be optimistic after a 38-30 season opening loss to the Georgia State Panthers.
Prior to the week one matchup, the big topic of discussion was how many points Tennessee would win by. If it was a healthy margin, it would likely mean the Vols were on the right track moving forward.
But if UT barely squeaked by, it probably would’ve been viewed as a red flag for Jeremy Pruitt.
So you can imagine how folks feel after a loss. And they’re absolutely right to question whether or not Pruitt is the right person for the job at Tennessee.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) September 1, 2019
Unfortunately, I’m not sure we can answer that question just yet. But it’s worth noting that Pruitt isn’t the first head coach to face to some adversity. Some very successful head coaches have had some very low moments before finding success (or sometimes even after finding success).
Here are a few examples.
Nick Saban — 2007 season
In Nick Saban’s first season at Alabama, he led the Crimson Tide to a rather average 7-6 record. Saban’s team also lost a game to Louisiana-Monroe, a program that went 6-6 in 2007 and 4-8 the year before. That’s nearly on par with losing to Georgia State.
Of course, in Saban’s second season the Tide went 12-2. But it’s important to remember that Saban had already won a national championship (at LSU) by this point. And he had coached in the NFL. Saban was a much more experienced head coach than Pruitt currently is and he still managed to lose a game to a much inferior opponent.
It wasn’t the first bad loss of Saban’s career, either.
In 2000, in Saban’s first year at LSU, the Tigers loss a home night game to UAB, a program coming off a 5-6 season. The loss ended LSU’s 49 game home winning streak against non-conference opponents.
Dabo Swinney — 2010 season
Swinney has never had a loss as bad as Pruitt’s loss to Georgia State. But Swinney has still faced some adversity.
The former Alabama wide receiver took over as Clemson’s head coach in 2008. In his first full season, in 2009, Swinney led the Tigers to a 9-5 record. But in 2010, Clemson took a step back, finishing 6-7.
In that moment, it would’ve been easy for Clemson to surmise that Swinney’s nine win season was a fluke and move on. But they stuck with Swinney, a first time head coach, and the Tigers slowly morphed into a powerhouse program. It didn’t happen overnight, but it eventually happened.
It took Swinney until his fourth season at Clemson to turn the Tigers into a ten win team.
Ed Orgeron — 2017 season
Ed Orgeron was named LSU’s head coach in 2017 after leading the Tigers to a 6-2 record as the interim head coach in 2016.
And he almost immediately had folks calling for his job.
LSU inexplicably lost to Troy in late September, 2017 and the hot takes came rolling in.
Coach O is an assistant. Everybody knew except LSU.
— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) October 1, 2017
— WildcatBourbon (@KentuckyByBirth) October 1, 2017
#funbelt teams were 0-13 vs Power 5 teams this season before Troy’s win at LSU
— Heather Dinich (@CFBHeather) October 1, 2017
It was obviously a rough time for Orgeron, but LSU rebounded to win nine games in 2017. The Tigers won ten games in 2018.
Mike Leach — 2014 season
Mike Leach, who almost became Tennessee’s head coach in 2017, has become one of the most consistent head coaches in college football. His teams regularly win 8 to 11 games a season.
But it took him a few years to get it going at Washington State.
In his first season, in 2012, the Cougars went 3-9. They improved in 2013 and finished 6-7, but then they finished 3-9 again in 2014. By that point, had Leach been anywhere else, he probably wouldn’t have survived. But Washington State stuck with him and the program improved to 9-4 in 2015. Washington State hasn’t won fewer than eight games in a season since 2014.
Gary Patterson — TCU
I think Gary Patterson is one of the top coaches in college football.
But every now and then his program, when the talent just isn’t there, will have a down year.
2013 is a great example.
In TCU’s second season in the Big 12, TCU went 4-8. That was a year after going 7-6. Not exactly a great start to the Big 12 era for the Horned Frogs. But Patterson didn’t panic and he was able to get the program on track. In 2014, TCU finished 12-1. In 2015, they finished 11-2. But in 2016, it was another down year, with TCU finishing 6-7, before rebounding to go 11-3 in 2017. You get the point.
What does this mean for Pruitt?
Unfortunately for fans, this doesn’t mean a whole lot for Pruitt. The second year Vols head coach will take his own unique path — as all coaches do.
But I think it’s interesting that plenty of coaches, most of them with more experience than Pruitt, have had plenty of struggles of their own during their coaching journeys.
There’s no doubt that Pruitt took over a hopeless situation. And he inserted some hope by leading the program to upset wins of Auburn and Kentucky last season.
Of course, there’s also no doubt that Pruitt let the program down this past weekend by not having his team better prepared.
If Pruitt learned major lessons from his mistakes, then the loss to Georgia State might be a positive.
But if he doesn’t, then it’s the beginning of the end for Pruitt.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports