By Mark Nagi
Well, here we are again.
Another football season for the Tennessee Volunteers, and another coach that is on the proverbial hot seat.
Yes, we have certainly been down this road before. Pruitt is the fifth head coach at UT since 2008. That much turnover is not a good thing, and the results have shown that to be true.
Pruitt’s Vols have lost all eight games to their biggest rivals in Alabama, Georgia and Florida, with none of those games being close affairs. (Note: I’m writing this article on the eve of the Vols’ December 5th game against the Gators, so if Tennessee somehow pulls the upset, just ignore everything I’m saying.)
The defense is average, and the offense is abysmal, one of the worst in the nation. Nearly three years into Pruitt regime, UT still doesn’t have anyone on the roster that has proven he can be a quality SEC quarterback. Even Bent Cimaglia, one of the best kickers in the nation, has had a subpar season.
Even more concerning is the Vols stature when it comes to picking up new players. Tennessee’s recruiting has tumbled from being ranked second in the nation to thirteenth after a couple of high-profile recruits de-committed.
Pruitt has a 15-17 record (before the Florida game) as the Vols head coach. All the good will from the eight-game winning streak that extended between the 2019 and 2020 season is long gone.
His buyout is reportedly $12.6 million, a number that jumped about $5 million following the extension that athletics director Phillip Fulmer gave him a couple of months ago. His assistants make a few million combined as well, so if Tennessee made a move, those are some big checks to write, especially during a pandemic.
Division rivals South Carolina and Vanderbilt have already decided that the buyout situation wasn’t enough for them not to fire their head coaches. The Gamecocks booted Will Muschamp in November and the Commodores said goodbye to Derek Mason last week. This gave them a head start on their search for a new coach.
We do know that Fulmer is going to give Pruitt every chance to succeed. Fulmer still feels wronged from his firing in 2008 and doesn’t want to can Pruitt unless it is absolutely necessary. Fulmer hired Pruitt a week after he was installed as Tennessee’s AD, and Pruitt’s success or failure does impact Fulmer’s legacy.
“We have a great fanbase. I love our fans,” Fulmer said during Vol Calls on December 2nd. “But I am going to tell you… there’s nobody more impatient than Jeremy Pruitt. He’s intense and relentless to get done what he wants to get done… An interesting statistic that I found was Coach (Johnny) Majors was 14-15-1 in his first thirty games and Coach Pruitt is 15-15 in his first thirty games. I really think we’re a better football team than our record has shown… (The) team plays hard and I think the Auburn game was a good example of that. But we’re not taking care of the ball and protecting it like we should, and we certainly haven’t gotten the takeaways that you would think a normal aggressive defense would get.”
Fulmer was tasked with getting the football program back on track when he was hired in 2017. For a time, it appeared that was the case. But it’s hard to make the argument today that Tennessee football is on the rise.