By now you know the story. The Vols are coming off of the worst season in program history and have a new coach in Jeremy Pruitt.
Before the 2017 season fell apart, former coach Butch Jones had the Vols ranked in the top ten in recruiting. By the time he was fired, Tennessee had fallen into the 50s of the recruiting ranks.
When Pruitt was finally named head coach in December of last year, there was a major sense of relief that coincided with a bit of mystery. Even though Pruitt primarily cut his teeth in the SEC, could he keep up with his astounding track record as a recruiter and how would he do as a first-time head coach in the FBS Division of college football?
The former was answered quickly as the Vols finished 2018 with a top-20 recruiting class that featured nine four-star players, including the nation’s top JUCO tight end in Dominick Wood-Anderson.
Tennessee’s 2019 class is a further testament to Pruitt’s recruiting ability and what makes this all the more impressive is that he is able to sell Tennessee to some of the best players as one of the nation’s top programs even though the results have been the opposite over the past decade.
This is going to piss a lot of people off, but Tennessee is not the program it once was. The Vols are 62-63 since 2008, with just three winning seasons during that span.
Three winning seasons in ten years is not the mark of a good program.
The added dysfunction that has followed over this same period hasn’t helped, either. From the Lane Kiffin fallout, to Derek Dooley, to the Butch Jones and John Currie catastrophe — this program has certainly taken its licks and is in recovery mode.
At this point, the biggest key to Pruitt’s future success is the 2018 season. How this team performs throughout the season — especially how they finish — will be the determining factor of whether or not he can keep the momentum rolling in Knoxville.
Pruitt knows that this season is a big deal and he is treating it that way, but not in an apathetic manner — he wants to win now. Volquest.com’s Austin Price recently stated that Pruitt is “treating Tennessee like Tennessee and not a 4-8 program”.
It makes total sense. The top players such as your Wanya Morrises, J.J.Petersons, and Wood-Andersons of the world know they are at the top of their class and that the playing time will come. Just like Pruitt, they want to win and they don’t want to wait for it.
And that is what will make this season and the aftermath so intriguing to watch. If the Vols finish with a record of 5-7 or 6-6, Pruitt will most likely have to flex his recruiting muscle more than ever in order to hold onto his current crop of kids, otherwise he may lose them to other programs.
One of those records would be considered an improvement coming off a four-win season, but will it be enough to sell the higher-tiered recruits on keeping their current commitments?
Truly speaking, the Vols really can’t afford another losing season right now. Whether or not that happens this year remains to be seen, but it will no doubt make Pruitt’s job even harder if they do finish under .500 for the fifth time in the past eight years.
Fair or not, Pruitt’s true test will be on the field in 2018 and the results could have a hand to play for years to come.