How many of you had Tennessee starting 0-2? Absolutely none of us did, but that’s where we sit two weeks into the season. 2019 already feels over. A bowl bid is already seemingly out of reach, barring a miracle. The season is already a failure.
Someone has to take the blame. That person is usually the head coach in this situation — and Jeremy Pruitt deserves plenty of it. His defense showed up unprepared in week one while the rest of the roster looked uninterested in being there. Week two showed a much better effort against BYU, but Tennessee failed to put the Cougars away despite having chance after chance.
Looking at what could could be a historically bad season, plenty of Tennessee fans are already looking for their next head coach. Unless you’ve got Urban Meyer on the other side of the line, firing Pruitt would probably be a mistake.
What is Tennessee lacking right now? Overall, it’s talent and experience. That much was obvious against Georgia State. Down three senior starters plus Bryce Thompson, the defense couldn’t even line up correctly. Is that all on the players? Absolutely not — but it could very well be a product of a rookie play-caller on the defensive side of the ball in Derrick Ansley. All around, that’s a pretty tough combination after the curveballs this defense received in camp with injuries.
On the other side of the ball, you’ve got youth up front on the offensive line and a quarterback that isn’t doing his coaching staff any favors. It seems like every fan and analyst overhyped the potential growth of Jarrett Guarantano this offseason. Through two games, it actually seems like he’s regressed.
How do you get out of this rut? You can do nothing but recruit if you’re not going to go out and hire a complete rockstar as a head coach. And that’s exactly what Jeremy Pruitt and his staff are doing. How will these first two losses affect those efforts? That remains to be seen, but Tennessee needs to do everything possible to keep this 2020 recruiting class together. Firing Pruitt and hitting the reset button on yet another recruiting class would make this roster even worse than it already is.
Pruitt has underperformed through two games in 2019. There’s no getting around that fact. But Tennessee needs some continuity in its football program — even if Jeremy Pruitt is figuring out how to be a head coach on the fly. Maybe he wasn’t ready for this job. But honestly, who was ready for this job after the coaching search debacle in 2017? That’s an impossible spot to walk into — one that isn’t fixed in 18 months.
To those that already say Tennessee needs to move on from Pruitt, my question is this — who are you hiring? Who is going to be better? Again, unless you’ve got a proven veteran with a contract in hand, I’m not sure nuking another recruiting class is what this program needs right now.
My message is this — stay the course. You’ve got to let Pruitt flip this roster. We’ve already seen what an impact guys like Eric Gray, Henry To’oto’o, Quavaris Crouch and Darnell Wright have made immediately. Let those guys get some more seasoning to them, then add some just like them behind them.
Expectations for 2019 have bottomed out. It may get even uglier. But at least we saw some improvement on Saturday night against BYU. We saw plenty of youth flash. While they can’t keep inventing ways to lose games, we just need that arrow to begin to point in the right direction by late October or early November.
Let’s at least give Pruitt that.