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What Recent History Shows We Should Expect From Jeremy Pruitt In Year Two At Tennessee

I recently went back and did a statistical breakdown of former and current SEC head coaches with particular focus on how they performed in their year two on the job. The results might have been what you expected, or you may have been surprised. Either way, there is plenty of data to look at, which normally results in some fun conclusions to jump to.

Here, we will look at as many coaching statistics as reasonably possible for the last three head coaches at every SEC program, and see if we can draw any conclusions for how year two will go for Jeremy Pruitt. Keep in mind, we are only considering the coaches that made it at least two seasons. Maybe, just maybe, we will be able to locate one or two stats that could give us an idea of what to expect from this season.

Programs Averaging Seven Wins The Previous Five Years

Before Pruitt took the Tennessee job, Tennessee was averaging seven wins per season the previous five years. In our sample group, there were ten other coaches that took over programs with this same stat line:

  • Nick Saban (Alabama)
  • Mike Shula (Alabama)
  • Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M)
  • Jim McElwain (Florida)
  • Joker Phillips (Kentucky)
  • Steve Spurrier (South Carolina)
  • Dennis Franchione (Alabama)
  • Jim Donnan (Georgia)
  • Nick Saban (LSU)
  • Derek Dooley (Tennessee)

Oddly enough, every possible Alabama head coach fell into this category, which would probably make Pruitt happy. Right off the bat, everybody knows about Saban and what he has done in his career, both at Alabama and LSU. Shula was fine, but had his time at Alabama marred with retroactive NCAA sanctions. Franchione bolted after two years, but had a solid 10-win season in his second year.

Sumlin, as we covered in the post mentioned earlier, rode Johnny Manziel to an 11-win year his first year in College Station, but stayed in the seven-nine win range for his remaining time there.

McElwain started hot with a 10-win season, but progressively regressed from there and wasn’t allowed to finish year three.

Phillips never cleared six wins at Kentucky.

Spurrier maintained the seven-win average for his first five years in South Carolina, which led into three consecutive 11-win seasons later. Not too shabby. Granted, he had his own credibility and low expectations at South Carolina to help get him to that point.

Donnan kicked off the Georgia dynasty that we all know and love today (somehow succeeding but disappointing at the same time every single season). Donnan went from 5-6 in year one to 10-2 in year two. He was fired after consecutive eight-win seasons three years later.

We don’t talk about the Dooley era at Tennessee.

The big takeaway from this group is Saban is the only one that made it out for a successful career. Fortunately for Pruitt, though, of the list above, everyone improved in year two, except for Sumlin, McElwain, Phillips, and Dooley.

But does this statistic really give us an idea of what to expect from Pruitt going into year two? Not really. We press on!

Programs Averaging Six Losses The Previous Five Years

Before Pruitt took the Tennessee job, Tennessee was averaging six losses per season the previous five years. In our sample group, there were five other coaches that took over programs with this same stat line. As many of you probably guessed, there is a little bit of overlap here:

  • Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M)
  • Joker Phillips (Kentucky)
  • Gary Pinkel (Mizzou)
  • Mike Sherman (Texas A&M)
  • Lou Holtz (South Carolina)

Sumlin and Phillips we’ve already covered.

Pinkel’s time at Missouri was interesting. He went 4-7 in his first season and 5-7 in his second. However, starting with his third season, the Tigers only dipped under seven wins three times in 13 seasons.

Sherman went 4-8 in his first season, 6-7 in his second season, then 9-4 in his third season. So consistent improvement was the trend there. Then he went 6-6 in his fourth season and got fired.

Holtz had a historic turnaround at South Carolina in his first two years. In year one, the Gamecocks went 0-11. In year two, they went 8-4, good for the best turnaround in our sample. He notched a 25-22 career record after that, so the upward trend did not continue.

There is a little bit of overlap in this stat, with Sumlin and Phillips making appearances again, but, since these first two statistics are so related, there still isn’t really anything to give us an idea of what to expect from Pruitt in year two. Onward!

Coaches That Had Never Been FBS Head Coaches Before

This is the first stat we have touched on that could actually suggest how Pruitt will do in year two. Hint: the majority of coaches that have never been head coaches before improve in year two.

Here are all of the coaches in our sample that had never been FBS head coaches before taking their respective jobs:

  • Kirby Smart (Georgia)
  • Mark Stoops (Kentucky)
  • Barry Odom (Mizzou)
  • Derek Mason (Vanderbilt)
  • Matt Luke (Ole Miss)
  • Mike Shula (Alabama)
  • Mark Richt (Georgia)
  • Joker Phillips (Kentucky)
  • Dan Mullen (Mississippi State)
  • James Franklin (Vanderbilt)
  • Mike Sherman (Texas A&M)
  • Will Muschamp (Florida)
  • Sylvester Croom (Mississippi State)

Remember that hint I gave you earlier that the majority of coaches in this category improved in year two? Of all the names above, only three didn’t improve. Luke went from 6-6 to 5-7, Phillips went from 6-7 to 5-7, and Croom went 3-9 in his first three years on the job.

Literally, everyone else above improved in year two.

With this in mind, strictly based off of coaches in our sample group, it is very reasonable to expect Pruitt to improve in year two. In fact, on average, coaches in this category improved by just over two wins between seasons one and two.

Coaches That Went 5-7 In Their First Year

In this category, it continues to look like Tennessee fans should expect much better from Pruitt in season two.

Here are the coaches that won five games in their first year and didn’t make a bowl game:

  • Butch Jones (Tennessee)
  • Dan Mullen (Mississippi State)
  • Jim Donnan (Georgia)
  • Tommy Tuberville (Auburn)

Donnan and Tuberville went 5-6 in their respective first seasons, but we’ll include them here, anyway because they still didn’t make bowl games.

Yet again, all of these coaches improved in year two. By a lot, actually.

Donnan improved by five wins in his first two seasons. Tuberville and Mullen both improved by four wins, respectively. Hell, even Jones improved by two games and he was terrible.

Conclusion? If you win five games in your first season, you should improve in year two by almost four wins, because that’s what everyone else in a similar situation did. Reasonable, right? RIGHT???

Coaches With Most Similar Situation To Jeremy Pruitt?

Right off the bat, Phillips showed up in the most separate categories that line up with Pruitt. However, when we look at the circumstances outside of just the statistics, it is fair to assume that Phillips’ situation and Pruitt’s situations are pretty different. Phillips had an offensive background, he was promoted from within at Kentucky, he took over a program with four consecutive bowl appearances, etc. Either way, for what it’s worth, Phillips went from 6-7 in year one, 5-7 in year two, 2-10 in year three, and didn’t make it to year four. Woof.

Sumlin and Donnan had been head coaches previously and both took over seven-win programs after being head coaches elsewhere. Sumlin had the big first year, but flat-lined in the years following around eight wins per season. Donnan had a big year two, then similarly flat-lined around eight wins per season. Would Tennessee fans be okay if Pruitt flat-lined at eight wins a season for a few years?

Shula and Sherman took over seven and six-win teams, respectively, and only mustered four wins in their first seasons. Mediocre six-win second seasons were followed up with 10 and nine-win seasons, respectively. Then, they both went 6-6 in their fourth season and moved on after four seasons.

Which leaves Mullen, which, in my opinion, is the most comparable name here. Mullen, who took over a struggling Mississippi State program, came in with zero prior head coaching experience but tons of credibility as a coordinator under a modern-day coaching legend and went 5-7 in his first year. Sound familiar? Mullen obviously went on to have plenty of success at Mississippi State, getting them to No. 1 in the country at one point and eight consecutive bowl games. Then he left MSU for the school that put him on the map.

Would Tennessee fans take that plan for Pruitt at this point?

So What Should You Expect From Year Two Under Jeremy Pruitt?

You should expect improvement. You probably already did without looking at any of this historical data, but now you have empirical evidence to support it.

But how much improvement?

Roughly two wins.

Regardless of how the program was performing when the coach took over, or how much experience the coach had, there is an average improvement of 1.8 wins between seasons one and two across our entire sample group.

Obviously, there are extenuating circumstances to all of this. Returning players, supporting staff, schedule difficulty, program support and expectations, etc. But, statistics tells us that a larger sample size will lower our margin of error and give us a more accurate prediction.

All this is to say: Tennessee needs to win seven games or more this season. And they should, based on recent history.

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