Greg McElroy isn’t bullish on Jeremy Pruitt’s ability to meet high expectations from Tennessee fans this season.
The SEC Network analyst spoke to SEC Country recently and said the Tennessee job “is the toughest situation” when considering the landscape for new coaches entering the conference. Five SEC teams changed coaches late in 2017, and Matt Luke had the “interim” tag removed from his title at Ole Miss in November. Pruitt replaced Butch Jones in Knoxville after working as Alabama’s defensive coordinator during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
“I think Tennessee is the toughest situation because their expectations are the highest,” McElroy said. “I mean, if Chad Morris goes in there and goes 6-6 a couple times, Arkansas fans aren’t going to be losing their minds. But if Jeremy Pruitt goes in there and goes 6-6, he’s going to have to answer some tough questions.
“So Tennessee fans, they have high expectations, and they should. And I think Jeremy Pruitt has high expectations for himself and for the program. But I don’t know if the expectations are attainable right now.”
It’s fair for McElroy to express doubts about Pruitt’s situation early at Tennessee. The Volunteers are coming off a rough 2017 season in which they finished 4-8. The level of talent in Knoxville is questionable, and McElroy told SEC Country’s Mike Griffith in April that “probably none” of Tennessee’s active players could start for Alabama.
In addition, the Vols’ 2018 schedule isn’t favorable. They play at SEC East power Georgia on Sept. 29, followed by a trip to Auburn on Oct. 13. They host the Crimson Tide on Oct. 20 before a road test against South Carolina on Oct. 27. Recently, SEC Network’s Marcus Spears and Outkick the Coverage’s Clay Travis told SEC Country that the Gamecocks are a rising SEC East program.
“I know Tennessee guys that are sitting here — I’ve gone on their shows — and they’re telling me, ‘Well, eight wins. We’ve got to get eight wins this year.’ I’m like, ‘Where? How are you going to get them?’ ” McElroy said. “If you look at their schedule, I think six [wins] would be a heckuva year. I really do, given the turnover. So I just think the Tennessee job is probably the most difficult right now because of the expectations of the fan base and just how badly they want to build a winner.”
Tennessee fans want a winner, especially after the nightmare of 2017, which included a disastrous coaching search under then-athletic director John Currie. But for now, the window of opportunity for the Vols looks small.
Georgia looks to be strong for a while under coach Kirby Smart after winning the SEC and reaching the National Championship Game last season. South Carolina has shown progress under coach Will Muschamp, going 9-4 last season. Then there are the annual matchups against Alabama for Pruitt to manage.
It’s possible for Tennessee to become an SEC East contender, but it likely won’t be a fast turnaround in Knoxville. Patience will be needed.