Let’s be honest — Jeremy Pruitt had a lot going on in December of 2017. Not only had he just taken the Tennessee job, which suddenly seemed like an even tougher gig after a circus of a coaching search, but he was also still helping Alabama plan for the College Football Playoff.
Pruitt guided the Crimson Tide’s defense to another national title, all while piecing together a recruiting class at Tennessee during the first ever early signing period. Even after his Alabama duties were done, Pruitt had an entire program to rebuild.
And that wasn’t limited to just the roster.
“I’m sitting there, okay, how did this happen?” Pruitt reflected on his first season at Tennessee. “I go back and it’s pretty simple. The first six months that I’m at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, I’m trying to fix everything, right? So we want to get the weight room right, we want to get the practice fields right, we want to get nutrition — everything that goes into building a program for the next 10 to 20 years.”
Somewhere along the way, Pruitt realized all of that other stuff had gotten in the way of his main objective.
“I lost the most important thing to me, which are the players themselves — the relationship that has always been a strength of mine,” Pruitt admitted.
That’s about as honest of an answer that a coach could give, and it’s totally believable and understandable. Let’s not forget, this is Jeremy Pruitt’s first rodeo. He’s been around some of the best programs in the country, but he’s never been in charge of one. Mistakes were always going to happen, especially considering the situation that Pruitt was walking into.
The key will be learning from those missteps and applying the lessons learned from them.
“I have learned a lot this offseason,” Pruitt said. “It was an easy fix to fix our relationships with our players. It takes time, right? Over time, you learn to trust people and you get to know them and know who they are. With that, it’s been very positive this offseason. Our players are comfortable around our coaching staff. You can see guys that, maybe at one time I wondered if they’d be able to help us win like we want, to where now I see guys that are growing and developing.”
That’s a pretty refreshing and open answer from a guy who is generally closed off in these media settings.
Elsewhere, Pruitt had opportunities for redos with both of his coordinator hires this offseason. Tyson Helton took the Western Kentucky head coaching job, while Kevin Sherrer was moved over to special teams. This cleared the way for the much more experienced Jim Chaney, along with Derrick Ansley, someone that Jeremy Pruitt has worked closely with in the past.
Hopefully for Tennessee, those lessons learned will translate to some wins on the football field in 2019 and beyond.