The hiring of Jeremy Pruitt was met by largely favorable opinions and views by Vol fans once it was announced on Thursday, December 7th. And a fair share of national media members also praised the hire. And one of the loudest voices in SEC football liked the hire as well, and he thinks Pruitt is a much better fit than what Vol fans wanted at the start of Tennessee’s search for a head coach.
Paul Finebaum, host of the SEC Network’s “Paul Finebaum Show,” was asked about the hiring of Pruitt and new Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer’s job in landing him. Finebaum said that he “liked the hire,” and thought that Pruitt was a much more realistic option than what many Vol fans were expecting before Fulmer took the job as AD.
“I liked the hire,” Finebaum said during an interview with WJOX’s Opening Drive in Birmingham, Alabama. “And I like that Fulmer was able, in a matter of days, to lower the expectations and quit chasing coaches all over the country and to quit embarrassing the university.”
Vol fans had their eyes on the likes of coaches like Jon Gruden, Gary Patterson, Chip Kelly, Dan Mullen, Mike Leach, Mike Gundy, and Chris Petersen at the start of Tennessee’s search for a head coach. While some of those were much more plausible candidates than others, there was no doubt that many Vol fans wanted a “splash” hire this time around.
Instead, they almost got Greg Schiano, and what came after was a series of convoluted decisions and a mess of a coaching search that resulted in AD John Currie losing his job and being replaced by Fulmer.
While Finebaum stated that he liked the hire, he’s also very skeptical of the job Pruitt will be able to do as a first-time head coach.
“Sometimes they work very successfully and sometimes they fail miserably,” Finebaum said of first-time head coaches at Power Five schools. “Kirby Smart had a rough first year (at Georgia) because he didn’t understand and know the lay of the land, so that’s always going to be held against you. To me, the Fulmer component is not that big of a deal.
“I don’t think any Alabama fan is overly concerned about what Phillip Fulmer is doing behind the curtain in Knoxville.”
Smart went 8-5 in his first year as head coach with Georgia. He left Alabama as their defensive coordinator to take the job leading the Bulldogs much the same way Pruitt left to be Tennessee’s head coach. But in his second year this season, Smart has led Georgia to an SEC title and an appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Fulmer had stated this weekend that he wants to make Alabama “sweat again” in the storied Third Saturday in October rivalry. But according to Finebaum, Tide fans may not be all that worried with Fulmer pulling the strings at UT.
Finebaum also has his doubts about Pruitt remaining on board Alabama’s staff to coach through the College Football Playoff.
“It’s a distraction,” Finebaum stated. “You know it, and I know it. Kirby Smart got half of it right two years ago and the other half he didn’t. The longer you shuttle back and forth, meaning winning the semifinal game, the more tension arises on the recruiting trail and the more you are distracted. I give Jeremy credit for wanting to do it. Ultimately, Alabama is probably a little better off with him being there, but if he thinks by the time he leaves, whether it be on January 1st or January 9th, that he’s going to have good feelings from the staff he’s working with now and working against on recruiting, he’s in for a shock.”
Only time will tell if the hiring of Pruitt works out in the way Fulmer wants it to. But Vol fans are mostly behind the hire, and they’ll continue to support Pruitt if can win big like Smart has so far.