By Alex Norman
Back in 2011, then Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley spent 38 days out of the public eye following the historic loss to the Kentucky Wildcats, a loss that kept them out of a bowl game.
In that five and a half week period, seven of his assistant coaches fled the sinking ship, as did multiple recruits for the Class of 2012. Fan angst was already at an all-time high after a loss to UK for the first time in 26 years. The perception that no one was at the controls of the football program carried over throughout the 2012 season. Eventually, Dooley was fired.
The lack of communication between the football program and the fan base is difficult to accept when things aren’t going well.
Fast forward seven years, and history is repeating itself. Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt hasn’t been heard from publicly since the Vols loss to Vanderbilt, a loss that kept them out of a bowl game. His offensive coordinator, Tyson Helton, left to take the head coaching job at Western Kentucky. Over the past three weeks, the rumor mill has churned at a breathtaking pace.
Former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, Houston OC Kendal Briles, Alabama QB coach Dan Enos, Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, Cleveland Brown OC Freddie Kitchens… they’ve all been connected in one way or another to the Tennessee OC job. Freeze took the head coaching job at Liberty. Briles is rumored to get the Florida State OC gig. Enos got promoted to the Alabama OC job. Lindsey was hired in the same position at Kansas. Kitchens still has a few weeks in the NFL season.
All the while the Vols are preparing for the early signing period (December 19-21), and they still haven’t made this very important hire. Volquest reported last week that any decision likely won’t be made until after the early signing period. From the outside, the inability to secure or decide on a new OC is not a good look, but I’m not sure Pruitt cares very much about that perception.
Pruitt is schooled in the Nick Saban school of communications. The head coach is the only one that speaks for the program, and he’s not going to submit to many off season inquiries. Just watch his coach’s show or any of the promos he has to do with WVLT, the flagship TV station of the Vols. Pruitt looks like he’s being held captive. He doesn’t enjoy that part of the job, so it isn’t like he’s going to give the media a heads up on the latest with the coaching search.
But there are dangers to all that secrecy. Misinformation spreads like wildfire. Remember Grumors? The inability to control that message helped lead to the firing of John Currie as AD. In addition, the Tennessee fan base is as dialed in as any in the country. They hunger for any news about their football program. Heck, hundreds of them stood in line for hours for the chance to purchase old Tennessee football gear last week.
But as more time goes on without a resolution to this job opening, you get more apathy, which is fairly dangerous to the success of a program.
No matter the spin, Tennessee should have made a hire by now. The uncertainty can’t help with recruiting, and it certainly doesn’t help with the psyche of Tennessee fans.
Tyson Helton was not a good hire by Jeremy Pruitt. His offense often looked ill prepared and his play calling left a great deal to be desired.
If the next hire is a success, few will remember the delays.
But for now, Tennessee’s dragging their feet looks like more of what we saw that was part of a decade of failures.