Photo: Dan Harralson/USATodayNetwork
The 2018 edition of SEC Media Days has had plenty of firsts. It was the first time the event was held outside of Alabama, the first Media Days appearance for six new head coaches in the conference, and, for Jeremy Pruitt, the first time he attended a major media event as a head coach.
The Vols’ new head man touched on his staff, his players, his relationship with Phillip Fulmer, and much more on Wednesday at the College Football Hall of Fame.
“When you talk about commitment, you can look at the Tennessee fan base” said Pruitt, “I’ve been all over the state. I’ve been all over the southeast. The passion, you can feel it. We’re hungry. They’re hungry. Everybody’s hungry. We’re excited to get started. We’re excited to get this era started and can’t wait to do it”.
For a coach who has not had much experience with the press, Pruitt looked prepared for the media gauntlet he and his players went through on Wednesday. He handled every question that was thrown at him, including regarding the comments of former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who expressed doubts that Pruitt has the personality to be a head coach.
“15 years ago, I was a kindergarten teacher” Pruitt responded, “Now, I’m the head coach at Tennessee. You probably don’t make that ascension without knowing how to treat people”.
Tennessee’s new coach also addressed position groups of interest for the Vols, in particular the upcoming quarterback battle this fall. “We have two young men, Jarrett and Will that were there in the spring. They’ll have 15 practices under their belt. We add Keller Chryst coming from Stanford who has played football there, has experience. And we are adding another young man from California, J.T. Shrout. We’ll give those guys opportunities in fall camp”.
“I think for us seeing what these other two new guys can do along with what the guys, see how they progress in fall camp, I think it’s going to be important for us as a staff to start whittling it down pretty fast so we can kind of create rhythm and timing and a little bit of chemistry on offense and figure out who our guys are going to be”.
Although this is Pruitt’s first career head coaching gig on any level, his boss is someone who has been in those shoes and, according to Pruitt, has been a great source of information.
“If you told me I was going to be the head coach at Tennessee and I could choose who the athletic director was going to be, I would choose Coach Fulmer. Coach Fulmer was a player there. He was an assistant coach. He’s a championship head coach at Tennessee”. Pruitt continued, “All of the things that helped make Tennessee great, he knows what it took to get there. When there’s a bump in the road, he probably knows the things that can help steer me away from it. I am thankful I have an opportunity, if I have questions, because I’ll tell you something, whatever you do, I talk about football being a developmental game, it’s the same way for coaches. I am sure ten years from now, I’ll be a better head coach than I will be this fall”.
With Fulmer in the building, there is plenty of memory from Tennessee’s past success. However, when asked about the struggles of the last decade, Pruitt had no interest in reflecting on it. “The only thing I can assess is the last six months. I wasn’t at Tennessee the last ten years. I’ve been there for six months”, Pruitt answered. “Right now I’d say that from the top down, from the boosters, the fan base, the players, everybody involved in the program, we’re all running in the same direction, and we’re running as fast as we can. So I think that’s what it takes, and that’s all we’re worried about”.
Another question Pruitt faced concerned his former bosses, particularly Alabama head coach Nick Saban. When asked if Saban has offered Pruitt any friendly advice since his hiring at Tennessee, the Vols’ head coach lightened the mood, jokingly replying with a question of his own.
“You think Coach Saban is going to give me advice?” Pruitt replied, “you better take it all in while you have the opportunity because as soon as you go put on the other uniform, I can guarantee you, everybody, even though everybody’s friends, we want to beat the other guy. You know? So we don’t want to give the other person the edge”.
After wrapping up his first Media Days, Pruitt and his players returned to Knoxville to prepare for fall camp. Tennessee opens the season with a week one matchup against West Virginia in Charlotte on September 1.