Tennessee’s search for a head coach turned embarrassing for the university and for Vol fans after repeated rejections and a convoluted process that somehow started with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano before turning to more established coaches like Mike Gundy or Mike Leach. Phillip Fulmer was named athletic director after two weeks of craziness from John Currie, and he hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt not even a week into the job.
Most Vol fans and regional media alike seem to like the hire of Pruitt and view it as a solid hire, especially considering how the search went before landing him. But one national writer vehemently disagrees, and he views both Pruitt and Fulmer as inferior to their counterparts across the SEC and country.
Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports put out his “winners” and “losers” of the coaching carousel in college football, and Tennessee was one of his “losers.”
Thamel stated that Tennessee ended up with “an inferior coach” in Jeremy Pruitt and an “overmatched athletic director” in Phillip Fulmer. Thamel adds, “The hires that former athletic director John Currie was on the cusp of making – Greg Schiano and Mike Leach – are exponentially more accomplished and better qualified for the Tennessee job.”
Not only does Thamel think Pruitt pales in comparison to the coaches that Currie was targeting, but he also believes Currie’s replacement, Fulmer, isn’t up to the task either.
“Pruitt is just inexperienced enough that Fulmer will be able to keep sticking his nose in the program, which is what he’s wanted since he was run out of the job nearly a decade ago,” Thamel writes. “Opposing SEC athletic directors, by the way, are giddy to have Fulmer in charge, as his administrative acumen presents little threat to the rest of the league. Expect Tennessee’s glory to remain faded.”
The two coaches Thamel points out that Currie was close to hiring, Greg Schiano and Mike Leach, both have head coaching experience. Pruitt does not. But it’s debatable whether both are “exponentially more accomplished and better qualified” to coach Tennessee than Pruitt.
Schiano has been a head coach at both Rutgers in college and for Tampa Bay in the NFL. He was 68-67 with Rutgers but did take them to only their second 11-win season in program history in 2006. He also had four other seasons of eight or more wins with Rutgers. But his time in the NFL was a disaster, as he went 11-21 in two seasons with Tampa Bay and was accused of being an “autocratic” coach who made playing at Tampa Bay feel like “being in Cuba” according to one of his former players.
And all of that doesn’t even touch on the allegations stemming from the Jerry Sandusky-Penn State situation that threw Vol fans, former players, and Tennessee politicians into a frenzy when it was first announced that Schiano might be the hire at Tennessee.
As for Mike Leach, one can definitely argue that he is a more accomplished head coach than Pruitt. Because he is. Pruitt has never been a head coach at the collegiate level, but Leach has done so for over a decade and a half. And he’s had plenty of success both at Texas Tech and Washington State, going 122-80 in those 16 seasons as a head coach.
But for all the accomplishments Leach has earned, he’s never done so in the SEC. He was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Kentucky from 1997-98, but he’s largely either coached in the Big 12 or the Pac-12. There are many questions about how his offensive system would work in the SEC.
Pruitt, on the other hand, has spent all but one of his 11 years as a collegiate coach in the SEC. And though he may not have any head coaching experience, he’s proven to be one of the best defensive coordinators in the country and has four national titles to his name.
Fulmer, like Pruitt, doesn’t have much formal experience at his new position. But Fulmer did learn the administrative side of football during his time at ETSU when he helped that school bring back its football program, and you won’t find someone who cares more about the University of Tennessee than Fulmer. That love may not translate into competency at the job, but most Vol fans will trust Fulmer to make the right choices when it comes to bringing Tennessee football “back.”
Only time will tell if Thamel’s opinion on Tennessee’s coaching search is right or wrong. But Vol fans certainly hope he’s wrong.