Tennessee football has recently recruited out of this world, landing 11 commitments in the 2021 recruiting class in the last two weeks. A hot streak like this in recruiting is rarely ever seen. Vol Twitter has loved every single minute of this streak, helping recent commits gain clout on Twitter, while also grabbing the attention of other teams around the country, especially on social media.
But according to Florida, Georgia, and Oklahoma fans, Tennessee is irrelevant, this recruiting class won’t be that good, they are paying players, and Jeremy Pruitt is going to turn out just like Butch Jones did during his time in Knoxville. Yes, there are some similarities between Jones and Pruitt. They both made a bowl game in year two, and they had a great deal of success on the recruiting trail. However, there are many vast differences.
One of the glaring differences surrounding Jones and Pruitt has to be in the coaching staff surrounding the program. Jones was able to hire some big names, including Zach Azzanni, Robert Gillespie, Tommy Thigpen, Bob Shoop, and Brady Hoke. When you compare those guys to the current staff that Pruitt has put around the Tennessee football program, you can see a vast difference.
No knock on Mike DeBord and his time at offensive coordinator, but when you compare him to the Vols’ current OC Jim Chaney, there’s a difference in the production and success between the two. You can argue the same argument for the defensive coordinator spot, as Derrick Ansley has shown signs of improvement on the defensive side of the ball during his short time here.
You could argue that Tennessee has one of the best staffs in the nation from top to bottom at the moment. Not only have these guys proved it on the field, but they’ve also dominated recruiting, especially recently. Tennessee has done a great job of bringing in former players to take on a big role in the coaching staff. They aren’t just doing that to build a sense of university loyalty; they are looking to hire the best coaches at those positions.
Pruitt, with the help of Phillip Fulmer, has been able to bring in former Vols Jay Graham and Tee Martin during his two seasons in Knoxville. Both Graham and Martin built a brand for themselves at other universities throughout the country before coming back to Rocky Top.
Pruitt saw a shakeup in his coaching staff this past offseason, losing five different assistants, which is something that typically happens when you have success on the field. Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker left for South Carolina, while Chris Rumph left for the Houston Texans. RBs coach David Johnson left for Florida State, while both Kevin Sherrer and Craig Fitzgerald left for the New York Giants. Pruitt primarily promoted from within for some of the coaching spots. Brian Niedermeyer was moved to inside linebackers, while Joe Osovet was promoted to the tight end spot.
New hires include Graham at running back, Jimmy Brumbaugh at defensive line and co-defensive coordinator, and Shelton Felton at outside linebackers.
It also shouldn’t go unnoticed that Fulmer is having an impact on the recent success of the football program. Hiring Fulmer as Tennessee’s AD will go down as one of their best hires in recent history. Not only has he took Pruitt under his wings after hiring a first-time head coach, but he’s also watched the men’s and women’s basketball program and baseball program excel during his time as AD.
Success on the Recruiting Trail
During Jones’ five years in Knoxville, he was a fairly successful recruiter. He recruited players that would have a great deal of success on the field. Guys that made it to the NFL during his tenure include Marquez North, Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Cameron Sutton, Josh Malone, Jalen Hurd, Derek Barnett, Rashaan Gaulden, Jakob Johnson, Emmanuel Moseley, and a few other guys. He even finished with a top-four class going into his third season.
That class included Kahlil McKenzie, Kyle Phillips, Alvin Kamara, Preston Williams, Shy Tuttle, Drew Richmond, and Jauan Jennings, to name a few. While Jones was able to recruit some big-name guys, he wasn’t able to get the best out of those players. There are a few things that played into that, whether it was not having the best staff to develop those players, a lack of coaching knowledge, the cliche sayings, or just being outsmarted on and off the field.
During his tenure, Jones was able to land big names but always seemed to try to make that big splash in the class, caring about the rankings more so than to fit the class. Yes, he brought in the seventh, fourth, and 14th-ranked classes during years two through four, but he never really seemed to recruit to fill the voids in his team. That is where Pruitt and his staff seem to be different.
It’s great to put together a flashy class in the rankings, but recruiting rankings don’t always matter. It’s a matter of how the staff can develop those players during their three to four years on campus. During his three recruiting classes, Pruitt has recruited to fill those voids from the year before.
Coming into his first actual season, he landed Greg Emerson and Emmit Gooden to help on the defensive line, Jahmir Johnson and Jerome Carvin to beef up the offensive line, and landed athletes to help out the secondary like Alontae Taylor, Bryce Thompson, and Trevon Flowers.
This previous class, he landed Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris to once again help the offensive line, Henry To’o To’o and Quavaris Crouch to help fill the void at linebacker once Daniel Bituli and Darrell Taylor graduated, and plugged in Jaylen McCollough, Eric Gray, and Darel Middleton to help in other spots of need.
Adding on to the last category, Pruitt building a great coaching staff has obviously paid dividends to his recruiting. There’s not a single coach under Jones that recruited as great as Niedermeyer has under Pruitt. During Niedermeyer’s short time at Tennessee, he had landed some of the top recruits in each of the recruiting classes.
Last year, he landed the top guys in the Tennessee class, including Wright, Morris, To’o To’o, and Crouch. In the 2021 cycle, he’s landed commitments from Terrence Lewis and Aaron Willis. Niedermeyer is also the main recruiter for cornerback Tony Grimes, the seventh-ranked player in the class of 2021.
Martin, Ansley, and Graham have all had success on the recruiting trail before coming to Tennessee and continue to have success with the Vols. Martin, Ansley, Niedermeyer, Graham, and Osovet are currently ranked at No. 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8, respectively, in the SEC in recruiter rankings.
Those guys have helped Tennessee move into the second overall spot in the 2021 recruiting cycle after finishing 10th last season.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) May 11, 2020
Tennessee has added all of these guys within the past month and will continue to land guys to build one of the most impressive classes in recent years for the Vols. While Tennessee currently has 12 players that are ranked 3-stars, those athletes will have a chance to improve their recruiting rankings.
Both categories have shown that Pruitt has done a better job than Jones, but I believe this category might be the most glaring category mentioned. This staff, alongside Pruitt, has done a great job developing players.
Tennessee had at least ten freshmen from last year’s class make a significant impact on the team in some way, whether that was starting at their respective positions, or seeing a great deal of playing time. That will likely continue into this year, as Harrison Bailey, Keshawn Lawrence, Malachi Wideman, Tyler Baron, Jalin Hyatt, and Len’Neth Whitehead all have a great chance to get meaningful snaps.
Being able to have the faith to put those young guys on the field to play important snaps only shows the work that the staff has put in to develop those players, whether it be off the field in the weight room and watching film, or on the field working on their skillset. Pruitt is recruiting players that will make an immediate impact at the positions, and that’s been evident throughout his signing classes.
He’s prepared those young players to step up. Time and time again, there’s been underclassmen come up in huge moments.
A prime example of Pruitt developing players though, is Darrell Taylor. Taylor was a very talented player while at Tennessee. While he didn’t get much playing time early in his career under Jones, he balled out in Tennessee’s 3-4 defense under Pruitt.
He was able to help turn Taylor into a second-round pick where NFL teams were looking to trade up to land him.
It’s a fact that Pruitt is a great developer, and that is shown in his coaching resume. Despite being in the college ranks for 13 years, he’s been able to put several players in the NFL. During his time at Alabama, Georgia, and Florida State, Pruitt put 44 players in the draft, which includes 26 that were drafted in the first or second round.
Looking at Pruitt’s track record of putting players in the NFL, it’s easy to see why recruits are coming to Tennessee. He’s building a great staff, bringing back hype into the program, and is helping a great number of his players live out their lifelong dreams of making it to the NFL.