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Phillip Fulmer details Tennessee’s turnaround under Jeremy Pruitt

They’ve come a long way.

NCAA Basketball: Lipscomb at Tennessee Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The steps that Tennessee took forward in 2019 were undeniable. Jeremy Pruitt and his staff came back from the dead to finish 8-5 on the year, capping off the season with a win in the Gator Bowl over Indiana.

That second half run was a culmination of two years worth of work that finally let us see just a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s really staggering to go back and think about how far this program has come in just the matter of 24 months.

In an appearance on Nashville’s 104.5 The Zone, Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer explained just how far the program has come in just two short years.

“I actually said it a couple times,” Fulmer said. “Give him time, we’re getting better. I mean, we were in a mess when we all came here two years ago. You can’t even imagine. We didn’t know how to practice. We didn’t know what effort was. Real effort.”

Giving Pruitt time was a tough sell at the beginning of the season. Tennessee had gotten off to a horrendous start, losing games to Georgia State and BYU. But giving him time was all we really could do at that point. Thankfully, that started to pay off a just a few weeks later.

“It was really a process to get our kids there,” Fulmer continued. “Offseason had a lot to do with that. We had very few guys that weighed 300 pounds when we came here. We had very few guys that could bench 400 pounds when we came here. And all that started to change. Now, physically, maybe not everybody in the country, but most people in the country, we can look in the eyes with their 11 and our 11. Maybe not yet at 22, two-deep. But certainly our 11 and their 11.”

Pruitt inherited a program that couldn’t even practice with two full groups of scholarship offensive lineman. He was tasked with flipping an entire front seven into his 3-4 base scheme, while replacing virtually an entire secondary. All after arriving just two weeks before the first ever early signing period.

The first season wasn’t pretty, but it never was going to be pretty. Somehow, Pruitt and staff managed to pull off upsets against ranked Auburn and Kentucky teams, giving Tennessee fans hope for what this era could turn into.

A year later, Tennessee started to look like an SEC team again. They were big in the trenches — no longer getting pushed around. Perhaps the most impressive moment of the season came in a loss to Alabama, simply because Tennessee looked like they belonged on the same field with the Crimson Tide for the first time since 2015.

“Would I love to be thinking that we have a chance to get into the SEC championship game? I certainly do,” Fulmer said. “Representing our side. Georgia lost a lot, Florida. They’re all real deals. That should be our mindset. Our attitude and culture is about that now. It’s not survival it’s hey, how can we go win this thing?”