Preview 2018: Previewing and looking ahead to the Tennessee Volunteers season with what you need to know.
Preview 2018: Tennessee Volunteers
It’ll all be nothing more than a delightful footnote if Jeremy Pruitt turns Tennessee into a powerhouse again.
From the Greg Schiano fiasco, to all the Mike Leach and Dave Doeren rumors, to the Lane Kiffin hopes, to the bloodless coup that saw the athletic department undergo an overhaul, it’s almost impossible to botch a head coaching search worse than Tennessee did.
But Vol fans got what they asked for.
You wanted Phil Fulmer back in the mix? Boom … there’s your athletic director. There’s the guy who took the football program to a whole other level.
You want a next-coach-up type of guy who might just be the perfect SEC blend of brutal honesty and defensive-minded brilliance? Boom … welcome to the Pruitt experience.
The defensive coordinator to the stars turned Florida State’s D into a national championship killer, was terrific for two years at Georgia, and then got the college job equivalent of Kim Kardashian’s make-up artist as the DC under Nick Saban for the last two seasons at Alabama.
Yeah, it might have been nice if he had a stepping-stone head coaching job first, but Kirby Smart has done just fine for himself at Georgia after making the leap from Alabama defensive coordinator to main man. And at the moment, Tennessee in 2018 is that transitional gig before what should happen in 2019 and beyond.
It’s not like Butch Jones didn’t recruit well. He cranked up top five-caliber classes for a stretch, and was at least around the top 15 on a regular basis. But when the wheels came off last season, they went flying in a lost season that led to the program’s offseason meltdown. Tennessee was way, way overdue for a new direction.
There are no excuses – and Pruitt won’t let there be any.
The program is bound by nothing when it comes to fan interest, recruiting, perks, facilities, and everything else needed to hang in the VIP lounge. But with all of that come the high expectations.
Tennessee fans have a right to be tired. They might be labeled as – to put it nicely – overly-passionate, but that’s okay. It’s not delusional to think the program can be a national title contender each and every year – and this fan base knows it.
And so does Pruitt.
But it might take a little while to get there again. There’s talent, and there are athletes, but there are gaping holes in key areas, and now all of that’s combining with a change in schemes, philosophies, and personalities.
The Vols will go into fall camp with 1) a still-questionable quarterback situation after Stanford grad transfer Keller Chryst, arrives, 2) an O line that isn’t exactly a mess, but needs a lot of work, 3) a running back pecking order needing to emerge, 4) a defensive front that has to get a whole lot better, and adjust to a new scheme at the same time, and 5) an offense that has to go from the worst in the SEC to ready for a few shootouts here and there.
But Pruitt was the right next step to getting Tennessee football rolling again. He’s not going to mince words, he’s not going to care about your feelings, and he’s not going to think anything less than being national title-good is okay.
The same goes for the long-suffering Volunteer fans, too.