At some point, you cannot explain away a loss.
At some point, a program becomes yours, and you own up to everything that happens when those cleats touch the field.
At some point, you cannot decry a fanbase for not showing up when you don’t either.
We are in the first two games of Jeremy Pruitt’s second year as head coach of Tennessee, and it feels like it’s 2017 all over again. Why?
The obvious answer is the 0-2 start. The worst loss in program history to Georgia State is one hell of a way to being 2019, and losing an absolute meltdown to BYU is just the icing on the cake. No one likes losing, and no one likes losing two games that you were supposed to win.
But that feeling of helplessness is what hurts the most. No matter what Tennessee does, they can’t get out of their own way. They can hire any coach they want, get any recruit they put their sights on, play any scheme they can devise. None of it matters.
Jeremy Pruitt was supposed to come in and change everything about this program. From the mentality, to the physicality, to everything in between, Pruitt was supposed to alter everything about this team and make them a legitimate foe.
An 0-2 to start the 2019 season and it all feels like this was a big mistake.
It wasn’t a Butch recruit who made horrendous mental mistakes that effectively let BYU come out with a victory. It was a recruit from Pruitt’s first class who had a stellar freshman season and was expected to take another step this year. Instead, he collapsed down the stretch and made a downright unacceptable mistake.
There’s no “former coaching staff ruined him”, there’s no “still learning how to win”. The whole point of younger guys is that they are a blank slate—you can mould your team with the mentality you instill on them, and you can be more open about what you want from them as players.
Overall the younger guys have looked good. Real good. Henry To’oto’o is a star in the making and Quavaris Crouch showed up in a big way. Eric Gray is fighting for more carries. All of these guys are so exciting to watch, and they give hope that the next few years will be better.
But we’re now seeing signs that the culture change has not progressed fast enough. They are still looking for leaders not named Jauan Jennings; they’re still making the same old Tennessee mistakes that have been standard for the past decade; they’re still losing games like Butch Jones is on the sidelines.
It even extends to the macro decisions. I’m in full agreement with fellow writer Terry Lambert that the decision to start Jarrett Guarantano is ruining the rebuild. He simply cannot play. Every snap he takes on the field is another indictment of the coaching staff, no matter how you slice it. If he truly is the best option they have under center, then that is a colossal failure to develop. If he isn’t? Well, then why are the coaches receiving money?
I’m willing to give Pruitt three seasons, barring any catastrophe like a 2-10 or 3-9 season (which are firmly on the table, in case you can’t tell). That’s not good for him however. He already lost a year of job security with the Georgia State loss, and the BYU loss is threatening that third year as we speak.
This upcoming season needs to be full of decisions that indicate Pruitt has a method for turning the team around. It needs to involve benching Guarantano, a consistent improvement on the defense, and an emphasis on getting younger players the snaps needed to prepare them for the next couple of seasons. This team has the pieces to accomplish more than what they have shown. While it’s not fully his players yet, Pruitt cannot afford to wait around.
These are more scary times for Tennessee fans. If things don’t turn around, this will become the worst Tennessee team in program history. As much as I hate to say it...if that comes true, it will be another four years before Tennessee can be good again. Once you’ve been down for 15 years...sometimes you don’t get back up.