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A final thought on Jeremy Pruitt, and looking ahead

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 12 Tennessee at Vanderbilt Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pruitt Era. It likely won’t be fondly remembered by the masses. Halfway through the 2020 season came a massive uproar about firing the ‘ole ball coach, as I’m sure you must remember. Is now the right time for a Pruitt requiem? Probably not. In fact, there might not ever be a time for that – except, maybe, if Tennessee is a national championship contender; then we can all look back at Pruitt’s time, like a person who made it through grueling and tough circumstances and recall, perhaps erroneously, “It wasn’t that bad” – with the sheer sense of relief palpable and the unrelenting feeling that, yes, you had escaped that cavernous pit.

Regardless of whether or not any of that comes to pass, one thing’s for sure: Somehow, Jeremy Pruitt used the University of Tennessee as a steppingstone. While the Pruitt saga isn’t over – there’s likely litigation steps still to be taken – as far as fans are concerned, he’s old news. At the end of January, the former head coach was scooped up by the New York Giants to command a position he’s a bit more familiar with: Defensive assistant.

This news probably flashed across your television sets, Google searches, or social media pages – or maybe not; maybe you don’t really care where Pruitt ends up, or how he’s doing, but he’s turned his tumultuous time at Tennessee into something more. While his foray into head coaching was short-lived, and probably ill-conceived from the get-go, Pruitt spun his tenure into a promotion (of sorts). Literally, he’s been promoted to a higher league, though whether or not this is an actual promotion is up for some debate.

If I were the speculating type, which, incidentally, I am, I would make the assertion that Pruitt has called his last game as the head man of a football team. Granted, he stepped into a pressure cooker – the word du jour surrounding this program – and inherited an arguably untenable situation, but his shortcomings were plentiful, and his missteps were many.

Despite excellent recruiting classes which did well to engage and excite the fanbase, the results on the field were, let’s just say, suboptimal. As we move toward a new future on Rocky Top – hopefully one with more winning and less tripping-over-verbs (no, you don’t need to be a grammarian to coach football well, but some things are harder to overlook when you’re insufficiently performing your job) – Pruitt, too, moves on.

I suspect he won’t look back at much of his time at Tennessee fondly. He’ll think back to how he enjoyed the relationships with his players but grew to loathe his relationship with the fanbase and inquisitive media; he’ll think of the excellent athletic facilities and how the administration gave him what he wished for, but he’ll feel the sting of having taken beating after beating. The fans, on the other hand, will eventually just think of him as another in a long string of successors ultimately unable to find their footing and who were either kicked out of town or high-tailed it out.

Nevertheless, the situation doesn’t feel quite as bleak as it did just over a month ago. The administration mobilized quickly on finding a replacement for former athletic director Phillip Fulmer in the person of Danny White, who, in turn moved quickly to find a new head coach, albeit one that he had just been linked up with in Orlando. Now we watch the coaching staff fill out and hope enough players stick around to field something akin to an SEC caliber team, all the while hoping that more recruits don’t peel off the track to Tennessee and land elsewhere. Finally, there are still many among us who optimistically look at the schedule and confidently proclaim, “You know, 7-5 is definitely doable this year.”