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How Long Should We Give Jeremy Pruitt?

Derek Dooley got three years as head coach of the Vols, which some argue was not enough time. Butch Jones got five years as head coach which some fans argue was too much time.

Pruitt’s contract is for six years, but as fans, how long should we give him to show us what he is worth?

Right now Tennessee has the opportunity to become the #2 team in the SEC East, but with South Carolina on the rise under Will Muschamp and Florida looking to bounce back to greatness with Dan Mullen, it will be a tall order for Jeremy Pruitt.

The Year Zero Argument:

Year Zero: does that sound familiar to anyone? It was a phrase Derek Dooley used to describe his first year as head football coach at Tennessee. The phrase basically means that people should hold their judgments until Year Two because it takes awhile for coaches to install their system and recruit their guys.

I’ve already heard a few folks use the term to describe the upcoming 2018 season as Jeremy Pruitt’s “Year Zero.”

Please don’t do that.

“Year Zero” is such an unnecessary phrase. When people use this phrase they always talk about their favorite team’s problems like they are some unique case never before seen in college football. You’ll hear exact same arguments from every fan.

“The roster was mismanaged…”

“The players weren’t developed…”

“The S&C program was a disaster…”

“This should be year zero for Coach Pruitt…he’s gotta build up the program…

Please find me a case where a coach got fired for lack of winning and the roster was in tip-top shape and the S&C program was phenomenal and there were five-star players just walking onto campus every single year.

(OK, besides Georgia.)

What Tennessee is experiencing right now are the same issues Alabama experienced after Mike Shula. It’s also the same thing Florida is currently experiencing after Jim McElwain. It’s also the same issues every single program experiences after firing a head coach.

When people use the phrase “Year Zero” they use it in a way to suggest that you should just completely throw out anything that happens in the first year with a new head coach.

Should Jeremy Pruitt contend for the SEC East in his first year? No.

Should Jeremy Pruitt be expected to beat teams such as Auburn, Alabama, or Georgia in his first year? Also, no.

But Jeremy Pruitt should show us some signs of progress in his first year as head coach, however miniscule, whether it be something big like upsetting one of the dominant SEC teams mentioned above or as small as improving the total offense and total defense yardage by 10 yards a game.

Tennessee fans should expect to see some upward progress next year with Jeremy Pruitt at the helm, however small.

“Good Coaches Win By Year Two”:

I heard this phrase too many times to count during this offseason as we all took a look back at Butch Jones’ less-than-stellar tenure at Tennessee.

When people say this phrase they always seem to point to two coaches: Nick Saban and Kirby Smart. Nick Saban started off his career in Tuscaloosa by going a measly 7-6 (including a loss to Louisiana-Monroe), but quickly improved to 12-2 in his second year. Kirby Smart finished his first year as head coach at Georgia by going 8-5, including losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech, but he also improved to 13-2 in his second year. Smart’s second season also included an SEC championship and an overtime loss against Alabama in the National Championship game.

While winning big in Year Two seems to be a good indicator of overall success, you shouldn’t measure a coach’s success to just two years. Success is still very much possible even if your coach doesn’t win big in his second year, as evidenced by the following examples:

Mark Dantonio is widely considered to be a top-ten head coach in college football. He has won the Big Ten three times and has made one College Football Playoff appearance. It took him until Year Four as head coach to win big at Michigan State. (First four seasons: 7-6, 9-4, 6-7, 11-2).

Chris Petersen, who boasts a career record of 129-29 (.816), a Pac-12 championship, and a College Football Playoff appearance, didn’t win big until Year Three at Washington. (First three seasons: 8-6, 7-6, 12-2).

2015 National Champion and Coach of the Year Dabo Swinney didn’t find great success with Clemson until Year Three, or Year Four if you count the 2008 season where Swinney took over mid-season for Tommy Bowden. (First four seasons: 4-3, 9-5, 6-7, 10-4).

All teams aren’t created equal and new head coaches tend to walk into completely different situations depending on the team and previous staff. Kirby Smart walked into a Georgia program that went 39-13 (.750) the four years before he was hired. There were NFL-caliber players on both sides of the ball and the players knew how to win in the SEC. Jeremy Pruitt is walking into a Tennessee program who lost every single conference game last season and whose best player was true freshman offensive lineman, Trey Smith. 

Will it take Coach Pruitt four years to have a 10-win season? Probably not.

But don’t expect an SEC Championship and a College Football Playoff berth in in second season.


As fans, I think we should give Jeremy Pruitt three years to show us what he is worth. Pruitt has the facilities, the tradition, the staff, and the money to get it done in three years. In Year One (not Year Zero) I expect to see marginal improvements on both sides of the ball. Pruitt just needs to win enough to get Tennessee to a bowl game and the fan base will be very happy.

Year Two for Pruitt will be an interesting test since he will be losing his starting front three on defense (Kongbo, Tuttle, Phillips). He will be losing a couple of solid DB’s in Micah Abernathy and Todd Kelly, Jr, true leaders on the football team. Pruitt will have a lot of talent and leadership to replace in 2019. A good indicator of a healthy, successful program is being able to replace players will equally skilled players immediately and see no drop off in terms of talent or production. 

2020 is the year for Jeremy Pruitt. By then, he will have three full recruiting classes of his guys. He will have had three years of his players going through his system. Pruitt needs to win big in 2020. If he doesn’t win big by 2020, he probably isn’t ever going to win big as a head coach and we will have to start this whole thing over again.

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