Tennessee isn’t a stepping-stone program.
It’s a destination job. One of the 15 best programs in the history of college football with more money and resources than just about every program not named Texas.
Taking the program’s stature into consideration, it would normally be puzzling for Tennessee to go after a guy like Jeremy Pruitt, who has plenty of experience as an assistant and coordinator, but zero as a head coach.
This predicament exists for a number of reasons, but mainly, it has to do with Tennessee’s lack of stability and functionality within its administration. Chancellor Beverly Davenport pulled off a brilliant PR move and tasked Phillip Fulmer with fixing the problems. Whether he’s capable of doing so, we’ll have to wait and see.
Until then, reports are suggesting that Fulmer is leaning toward Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who is not nearly as qualified as the first coach Tennessee attempted to hire, but given his credentials, is well worth the risk.
As previously mentioned, Pruitt has never once been a head coach, but he doesn’t lack experience around big-time coaches at big-time programs.
Since 2013, Pruitt has been a defensive coordinator at Florida State (2013), Georgia (2014-2015) and Alabama (2016-present), coaching under the likes of Jimbo Fisher, Mark Richt, and Nick Saban. That trio holds a combined career record of 463-142-1 with six National Championships. This doesn’t guarantee success for Pruitt, but it certainly doesn’t hurt him that he’s gathered knowledge from three of sport’s premier coaches.
As a defensive coordinator, Pruitt’s numbers speak for themselves:
|YEAR||PROGRAM||DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY RANKING||RECORD|
|2013||Florida State||1st||14-0 (NC)|
In the SEC, having a defensive-minded head coach is an added bonus given the conference’s overall physicality. However, an area of concern will be how Pruitt handles Tennessee’s offense, which was a level beyond putrid last season. He’ll have to make a slam-dunk offensive coordinator hire and let that coach have complete control.
Those questions are much easier to answer, though, than the one that could potentially make or break Pruitt’s candidacy — does he have the vision to rebuild a program?
The lives of head coaches are coordinators are vastly different in their scopes. While a coordinator can focus squarely on his side of the football, a coach is responsible for establishing a culture and running an organization. Pruitt has always been surrounded by exceptional culture builders, and maybe he’s contributed a great deal in that aspect, but given the complete cultural collapse of Tennessee football over the past year, the job might be too overwhelming for a first-time head coach.
That’s the main reason Tennessee fans begged for a coach with experience when the process began. Maybe Greg Schiano, Jeff Brohm or Mike Leach wouldn’t have lasted more than four years in Knoxville, but at least all three had the necessary experience to tackle a job of this magnitude.
It’s still unclear whether Pruitt will be the hire or not, but if he is, it’s a massive risk. However, given his track record as a defensive mind, along with his connections to brilliant football minds and recruiting in the south, hiring Pruitt is honestly the safest bet Fulmer can make at this point.