We already know how different Butch Jones and Jeremy Pruitt are, but what you are about to read will really drive home the point.
During his time at Tennessee, Jones was thrilled to get to get to nine wins and a bowl game. So when things started going south, Jones pointed to his 2015 and 2016 nine win seasons as some of the best years of Tennessee football in recent memory.
“We have a lot of great things going on right now,” Jones said in an interview with Nashville’s 104.5 The Zone. “We’re experiencing the last three years — the last two years have been some of the best years in the last 20 years of Tennessee football.”
Of course, at the time, Tennessee had won a national championship in that 20 year span, making his comments particularly laughable. Also at the time, Tennessee had just wasted a loaded roster which was fulling capable of winning the division. Jones was fired a year later after putting together the worst season in Tennessee football history.
Fast forward to Jeremy Pruitt, who is coming off of an 8-5 season in 2019 — in the midst of rebuilding from ground zero after Jones was fired. It was a huge positive development, especially after the losses to Georgia State and BYU.
Difference is, Pruitt isn’t giving anybody a chance to be satisfied.
“I would say for everybody that’s associated with Tennessee, we need to raise our expectations,” Pruitt said on Thursday night at a signing day event. “And I know everybody’s excited we went 8-5 and finished the year the right way. But we’ve got to raise our expectations as a program, as a fan base, because the people we’re competing against, they’ve been trying to kick us while we’ve been down, right? We’ve been kicked around a little bit. It’s time for us to start doing a little bit of kicking ourselves.”
I realize this was basically a pep rally, but Pruitt gets it. He’s not going to get caught up in eight wins, because that’s not his goal. Jones and Pruitt couldn’t be any different in this respect, and this mentality will eventually pay off in the long run.
He and his staff have gotten Tennessee back to the middle of the pack in the SEC, beating Missouri, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Now it’s time to take steps closer to Florida, Georgia and Alabama. It’s time to start competing for the SEC East again, and for the first time since 2016, you’re not particularly crazy to believe that the Volunteers can get there.