Vol fans are already liking the early returns on new head coach Jeremy Pruitt. He and his staff have made some strong progress in recruiting not even two months on the job, and Tennessee has only been in the news for positive stories and not negativity ever since Pruitt has been hired.
But Pruitt has yet to coach a single practice with the Vols, let a lone a game. His true value as a coach won’t be determined until he takes Tennessee into the heart of their SEC schedule.
And if the opinion of one SEC coach is anything to go on, then Vol fans will be happy when that time comes.
In an interview with Gridiron Now, an anonymous SEC coach had nothing but praise to give for the Vols’ new head coach. And some of it is extremely lofty.
“To me, Jeremy is the best defensive mind in the SEC,” the coach stated under anonymity. “He’s better than Nick (Saban) and Kirby (Smart).”
Saban has been the architect of Alabama’s defense ever since he took over as head coach a decade ago. Various defensive coordinators have run his defense at Alabama (such as Smart and Pruitt), but it’s widely believed that the Tide’s defense is still his defense and that he’s in charge of it.
And that defense has consistently been one of the best not only in the conference, but in all of college football.
Alabama has finished inside the top five in college football in total defense nine of the last ten years, and that includes finishing first four of those nine times. The one constant in all that? Nick Saban.
Kirby Smart had been Alabama’s defensive coordinator for most of Saban’s run with the Tide. He was named the DC in 2008 and served as such till 2015 when he accepted the head coaching position at Georgia. And in two years with the Bulldogs, he took their defense from 16th in the country to 6th from his first to his second season.
But according to this unnamed SEC coach, Pruitt is better than them both.
Pruitt had been a defensive coordinator at a Power Five school for the last five years before taking over as Tennessee’s head coach. He was at Florida State for a season, worked as Georgia’s defensive coordinator for two seasons, then returned to Alabama (where he had been an assistant coach before joining Florida State’s staff) to be their DC for two seasons.
And as a defensive coordinator, Pruitt’s defenses averaged nearly a top-5 finish in total defense. His defenses have averaged a placement of 5.8 over the last five years, and his defenses never finished outside the top 20 and only finished outside the top 10 once.
Not only does Pruitt’s defensive prowess stand out to this anonymous SEC coach, but his ability to hire a quality staff does too. And it’s because of both of those combined that the coach believes Tennessee will be turned around quickly.
“He hired a great staff,” the coach said of Pruitt. “They will flip Tennessee back to where they were quickly, within the first two years. Tennessee will play better defense with whoever they have (now) than they’ve played in the last 10 years.
“The second year, I could see some real (expletive) happening at Tennessee.”