For starters, most people that comment on this post will not actually read it. My purpose for this article is to rationally discuss the reasons why Tennessee fans are either in or out on Jeremy Pruitt as the head coach of Tennessee. I try not to tell fans how to fan, but I would like to provide points to both sides of the argument to hopefully help bridge the current disconnect between Volunteer fans.
Sports are a lot like politics. Everyone generally agrees there is a problem, but people are often split on the best way to reach a solution to the problem. Rational people will agree that the University of Tennessee does not currently have a good football team and, as fans, we want a solution to fix it.
The dysfunction that is the University of Tennessee football program never allows for a dull moment. I never thought I would be having to write about Pruitt’s job security four games into year two of his tenure, but here we are. It’s just the Tennessee way.
Reasons that fans believe we should stay the course with Pruitt has the head coach:
1. Jeremy Pruitt has 16 games under his belt as the Tennessee head coach. His overall record is 6-10 finishing year one at 5-7 and starting year two at 1-3. The Vols have lacked stability in the program going as far back as the days current athletic director Phillip Fulmer roamed the sidelines in the early-to-mid 2000s. Pruitt is the fourth coach to lead Tennessee in the last ten years.
2. Pruitt has not had enough time to fully implement his system and vision for the program. And even though things do not look good right now, it is best to give Pruitt time to bring in “his guys” that he and his staff recruited to Tennessee.
3. The situation Pruitt inherited is unlike any college football fans have seen before and terminating him will only set the clock back and begin another long rebuild. The last coaching search was a disaster and some fans just need stability even if Pruitt does not win another game this season. Firing Pruitt after year two would only exacerbate the stability problem.
4. On paper, it looks like one of the best support staffs in the country. Just this offseason, Jim Chaney signed on as offensive coordinator, Derrick Ansley left the NFL to oversee the defense, Tee Martin finally came back to Tennessee, and Brian Niedermeyer was named 247Sports National Recruiter of the Year.
5. Paying buyouts is something Tennessee fans know too much about, and firing Pruitt and his staff will continue to add to the list of coaches being paid to no longer work at the University.
Reasons that fans believe Pruitt will not be successful and it is time to move on:
1. The team is not showing signs of improvement. Pruitt has yet to beat a FBS team in year two. He arguably has the worst loss in Tennessee history with his team being outplayed on both sides of the ball against a Georgia State team that went 2-10 last season. His lone win comes against FCS opponent Chattanooga. It is hard to point to players that have improved from year one to year two under this staff. And coming into the season, the pedigree of this coaching staff really has people scratching their heads’ as to why the lack of development is so noticeable.
2. It is one thing to lose, but the way the Vols are losing is the most concerning part. In Pruitt’s last three SEC games, the Vols have been outscored 122-33. It is one thing if the losses are coming from Alabama, Georgia, and LSU, but those losses are to Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Florida which are average to bad SEC teams.
3. The lack of energy and enthusiasm displayed by both players and coaches are visible. Multiple reports of players looking unprepared and disinterested are making some fans begin to question whether or not the team really cares if they win or lose.
4. Good coaches that have at least a sub-par first season do not regress in year two. Of all the current Power 5 head coaches only eight had less wins in their second season compared to their first season.
– Jeff Brohm (Purdue): 2017 (7-6), 2018 (6-7)
– David Cutcliffe (Ole Miss): 1999 (8-4), 2000 (7-5)
– Jimbo Fisher (Florida State): 2010 (10-4), 2011 (9-4)
– Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech): 2016 (10-4), 2017 (9-4)
– Gus Malzahn (Auburn): 2013 (12-2), 2014 (8-5)
– Chris Petersen (Washington): 2014 (8-6), 2015 (7-6)
– Lovie Smith (Illinois): 2016 (3-9), 2017 (2-10)
– Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M): 2012 (11-2), 2013 (9-4)
The difference with Pruitt and the coaches above, excluding Smith (who is likely to be fired this year at Illinois), is all these coaches reached a bowl in both their first and second seasons. Even the most optimistic Vol fans are having difficulty finding four wins on the 2019 schedule just to match last year’s 5-7 record.
5. If there has ever been a fan base that should be able to recognize the first signs of a coach that is unlikely to succeed, it is Tennessee fans. After all, there has been a lot of practice lately. Derek Dooley’s team quit on him at the end of year two, but the administration decided to bring him back for another year. The warning signs were flashing that Butch Jones was in over his head with losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt in 2016, despite having infinitely more roster talent than those opponents. But the issues within UT’s athletic department allowed Jones another season that would ultimately be the worst in school history.
Only time will tell the fate of Pruitt, but as a lifelong Vols fan, all I can say is: “Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.”