Before I begin, let me preface this by saying I despise Butch Jones for what he did to Tennessee Football, and I would never want him back in any capacity. That being said, these types of feelings were not all always the case. There was a time when the fanbase loved Butch. Sure, his press conferences were always a little cringy, but it was something we were all willing to overlook, that was until everything went awry.
Jones took over as Tennessee’s 23rd head coach in 2013. He was handed the reigns to a dwindling program, but there was still a glimmer of hope that Tennessee could return to relevancy. Similarly, when Pruitt took over in 2018, there was much of the same thought process. Tennessee Football was in a dark place, but the right coach would be able to get the Vols back on top.
Glancing back at their first seasons as Tennessee’s coach, they both finished with a meager 5-7 record going 2-6 in conference play. However, considering the season prior, 5-7 seemed like a step in the right direction for both coaches. Not to mention, both coaches also picked up signature wins in their first year. Butch beat 11th ranked South Carolina, and Pruitt beat 23rd ranked Auburn and 12th ranked Kentucky. Looking back at this now, one would expect that if either coach was good enough to win those games, they should have been good enough to make a bowl game, at least. Regardless, both teams looked to be moving in an upward trajectory after year one.
Going into year two is when you can really begin to see a difference
First in recruiting. Butch’s first class was ranked 7th nationally, whereas Pruitt was ranked 14th. We all know that Butch would use the numbers to inflate his rankings. But we did still see several gems come out of that class: Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone, Derek Barnett, Ethan Wolf, among others. Pruitt did manage to sign two five-star offensive tackles, but they have both left a ton to be desired.
Now looking at the actual games, we can start to see even more discrepancies. Butch went finished the season 7-6 with a bowl win over Iowa. Pruitt finished the season at 8-5 with a bowl win over Indiana. At first sight, it might appear that Pruitt’s season was better, and it certainly finished on a higher note with the six-game winning streak. But the two early losses in the season to Georgia State and BYU were inexcusable. For everything Butch did do wrong, he never lost to a team like Georgia State. Nevertheless, I think it is fair to assume expectations and hopes were equally on the rise for both coaches entering year three.
Finally, we get to the third year
Once again, we start with recruiting. Butch managed to pull off the 4th overall class, and Pruitt improved to 10th. I think it safe to assume Butch did recruit better, but following his third year, the vision he was trying to send to the recruits was starting to fade, and thus the recruiting began to fall off. This is evident with his 4th class coming in at 14. We are starting to see this, too, with Pruitt. He had a vision he was trying to sell these recruits on, and now that the product on the field doesn’t match what he is saying, the players are beginning to de-commit, as evident with what has happened this past week.
Not looking at recruiting, the play on the field was significantly better in year three under Butch than Pruitt. Tennessee definitely let a few games get away from them with the Oklahoma and Florida game. Not to mention the brutal loss to Arkansas. Regardless, Butch still found a way to win nine games for the first time since 2007, culminating with a win over 12th ranked Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. Despite the shortcomings in 2015, expectations were at an all-time high heading into 2016.
Now take a look at Pruitt in year three, and it couldn’t be any more opposite from Butch. First, to state the obvious, Tennessee only has TWO wins. TWO WINS. This should be the biggest red flag ever in the history of football that a coach is not the guy. Looking even further, Pruitt isn’t even competitive in year three. Tennessee has lost six straight games by double-digits. This is an unprecedented time right now with everything going on, sure. But that doesn’t mean we should give Pruitt a pass for this season. Everyone else is dealing with the same issues. The difference is nobody who still has a job has handled it as poorly as Pruitt.
Looking ahead to 2021 and expectations could not be any lower
Nobody is excited for what will come if Pruitt is still the head coach next season, and the attendance in Neyland will prove it. Please understand, I am not advocating for bringing Butch back; I personally cannot stand the guy. Still, the fact remains that he had Tennessee in a better position after three years than Pruitt does currently. The writing was always on the wall for Butch, and the higher-ups waited too long to fire him setting Tennessee back a year. Similar to Butch, the writing is on the wall for Pruitt. We know he isn’t the answer, so a move needs to be made before it is too late.