KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee got its first taste of Jeremy Pruitt on Thursday afternoon, and judging from the initial feedback, the Vols’ new coach won his first outing in Neyland Stadium.
Pruitt, standing before a room full of media, administrators and boosters, made it clear that he intends to build a fierce, intimidating championship football program at Tennessee.
Already, his distinctive Sand Mountain accent and signature “aight” phrase have caught hold in the Tennessee fan base as Vols fans warm quickly to his folksy nature.
The bigger picture, however, is how invested Tennessee has quickly become in Pruitt, even beyond his 6-year contract worth $3.8 million per year.
Here are 5 initial takeaways and key quotes from the start of the Pruitt Era:
1. Phillip Fulmer’s guy
Phillip Fulmer blushed when asked if he saw a bit of himself in Jeremy Pruitt, the question hitting pretty close to the target based on the admiration the athletic director clearly has for his new football coach.
Pruitt is 43 — the same age Fulmer was before his first full season as the Vols’ coach — and, like Fulmer, Tennessee is his first head-coaching job, and he’s also coming from a coordinator position under a national championship coach.
Fulmer will give Pruitt great support and more patience than an AD who doesn’t have coaching experience. Remember, it was Fulmer who said people were “crazy” for suggesting Butch Jones was on the hot seat entering last season.
2. Recruiting priority
Tennessee’s biggest issue right now is a lack of talent and healthy players, and Pruitt must first address that through recruiting. The Vols will be looking for impact players in this signing class, and they will also look thoroughly through the junior college ranks from Virginia to Mississippi and out to California.
“We are gonna start right here in this state, and we’re gonna start from Knoxville and work our way out, [and] this is going to be our state,” Pruitt said. “In recruiting, we’re gonna mix it up for the best players that fit the University of Tennessee all over the country. The brand name of ‘Tennessee,’ it sells.”
3. Aggressive defense
Tennessee wanted to be an attacking defense this season, but a lack of dominant line play prevented the Vols from stopping the run on early downs and putting opponents in down-and-distance situations that would lead to successful pressure package situations.
“We want to create an aggressive style of defense that we dictate what the offense does,” Pruitt said. “We’re gonna walk up at the line of scrimmage, and every inch the offense gets will be challenged.”
4. Balanced offense
Tennessee’s greatest challenge will be producing any sort of consistent offense until it can settle on a quarterback. It’s very unlikely that Quinten Dormady, Jarrett Guarantano and Will McBride will all be on the Vols roster next fall.
So who is out, and who are the incoming quarterbacks going to be? There’s a reason Pruitt met with his quarterbacks on Thursday.
“We have to create balance, we want to be able to run the ball when we want to run it, [and] it starts with dominating at the line of scrimmage,” Pruitt said. “We want to create explosive plays in the pass game, and that starts with being able to run the football.”
5. Fulmer’s defense of defense
All three Tennessee coaching finalists were defensive coordinators, and Fulmer was asked why.
“There’s eight SEC schools that beat us last year, and six of the head coaches were defensive coordinators before they were a head coach,” Fulmer said. “There’s an intensity, there’s a passion, there’s a toughness that comes from playing defense in this conference, and I know what that looks like.”
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt and Vols AD press conference 12-7-17
Posted by Mike Griffith on Thursday, December 7, 2017