Time will tell if UT's Pruitt is a good hire

Douglas Fritz • Updated Dec 7, 2017 at 7:35 PM

One question nobody at the University of Tennessee can know the answer to, is the same question everybody is answering: Is Jeremy Pruitt a good hire as head coach of the Volunteers’ football program?

The only thing that can be offered right now is speculation. Yes, new athletic director Phillip Fulmer found a defensive-minded coach who has proven he can recruit. Pruitt, 43, is at a good age to become a college head coach. He has been part of national championship seasons at Alabama and Florida State.

For sure, Pruitt checks almost all of the boxes needed to be a successful head coach.

And Pruitt has the right words.

“There was a time and place this university was feared among (Southeastern Conference) teams,” he said at his introductory press conference Thursday. “My goal is to get us back to that point.

“My vision is for our football team to be a big, fast, dominant, aggressive, relentless team that nobody in the SEC wants to play. How do we get there? It starts with recruiting. This is going to be our state. It starts with dominating the line of scrimmage. It’s mental and physical toughness.”

But until Pruitt leads a team through spring practice, fall preseason, and that first year in Neyland Stadium, there’s no proof. Yes there’s evidence, but the facts haven’t been established. He has no head coaching experience.

Will his teams start slow and finish strong — in games and throughout the season? Will Tennessee blow leads, make big comebacks, or methodically control the clock and games? Will the Vols be great in the clutch or give up the big plays? Will Pruitt’s clock management be more like Butch Jones or Nick Saban?

Only time will tell.

A better question

Instead of asking whether Pruitt will have success at UT, maybe the focus should be this: Will he lead the Volunteers’ football program where its fans want it to go?

That’s the biggest question.

Think about it. For UT fans, even nine-win seasons aren’t good enough. Butch Jones had back-to-back 9-4 marks, and some fans were still howling for his removal even before his disastrous 4-6 start in 2017. Jones also had back-to-back Top 25 finishes. Not good enough.

So where do UT fans expect the program to be? Quite honestly they expect to be knocking at the door of the college football playoffs pretty much every year.

Can Jeremy Pruitt deliver that meal ticket? Certainly not if the menu requires asparagus. (http://thebiglead.com/2017/12/07/video-heres-jeremy-pruitt-seeing-asparagus-for-the-first-time/).

A better ending

When the Greg Schiano/John Currie disaster had run its course, it looked like UT fans were doomed to a second-rate hire.

But that didn’t happen. It’s easy to argue Pruitt is an up and comer. And while those types of coaches don’t always work out, it’s never a bad idea to grab one of them — especially when other avenues to bigger name coaches have been closed.

So for all of the negative finger pointing at UT’s administration and fan base, the Vols got a far better ending than anyone could have imagined a couple of weeks ago.

Fulmer’s future

Pruitt’s job security should be closely linked to that of his AD. Sure, everybody loves Fulmer now that he seemed to have saved the day.

This isn’t the same program Butch Jones inherited. There is a roster full of players who were considered at some point to be among the best in the nation.

So if Pruitt loses to Florida and the grumbling starts, Fulmer should be held accountable. If Pruitt loses to Georgia, Alabama, or South Carolina and the fan base gets restless, Fulmer should be in the crosshairs as well.

And just to be fair, if Pruitt gets UT in the SEC championship game next year, Fulmer should get a great deal of the credit.

No, this isn’t a one-year deal for Pruitt to rise or fall. But whichever direction he goes, Fulmer should follow — whether he likes it or not.

(Douglas Fritz is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him a dfritz@johnsoncitypress.com)

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