Jeremy Pruitt’s whirlwind first year at Tennessee hits a new milestone this Saturday. He’ll go through his first Orange and White game as the Vols’ head coach.
In many ways, this feels like the first normal stretch of time for this current administration. They spent the first two major acts of their time as Tennessee coaches juggling other jobs, last-minute early recruiting, cobbling together a class for National Signing Day, and getting an idea of the current roster.
Everything has been dramatically abbreviated for Pruitt and company, but they’ve had what amounts to a full, regularly-paced spring. And Saturday will be Vol fans’ first live peek at the overhauled orange.
And the new Tennessee head coach doesn’t just expect everybody there. He needs them there.
“When I say everybody, I mean everybody“ Pruitt said Tuesday after the team wrapped one of their final spring drills. “Everybody that considers themselves a Tennessee fan, it’s going to take us all.”
Like everything with this coach, that “us” was powerful in its simple, understated delivery. Vol Nation should make note of that “us.”
From his introductory press conference, Pruitt has stressed that if Tennessee is going to resume its historical form as an SEC juggernaut, it’ll take the unified effort of every coach, player, staffer, and fan in the Tennessee landscape to get the necessary recruits on campus, and (as of Saturday) to get the current players in orange ready for competitive situations.
“We need it as a football team, we need it as a football program,” Pruitt stated. “Obviously it helps in recruiting when you have 102,000 people for a spring game.”
Tennessee has never cracked over 74,000 fans in attendance for an Orange & White game, though fans got close in 1986. 73,801 Vol fans showed up to watch the 1986 spring game only months after Tennessee annihilated Miami in the Sugar Bowl to cap the 1985 season. That’s the largest Orange & White Game crowd in Tennessee history.
This could be where Pruitt’s zero-flash approach to the press is tested. As bad as Butch Jones was as an in-game coach, he was a master salesman. Coming off of years of inescapable marketing, catch phrases, and what seemed like one never ending appeal for fan support, it’ll be interesting to see how Tennessee fans react to such a muted call to action.
Both fans and reporters have celebrated the return to normal, believable talk that Pruitt brings to the podium, and there are few stronger phrases than “I need you” and “I expect you.” But after being hit in the head with brick after brick from Jones, can the excitement of a new beginning and Pruitt’s “real talk” inspire significant numbers so soon?
Even with his building popularity, good weather, widespread intrigue about position changes, a new QB competition, and Tennessee’s new schemes on both sides of the ball, Pruitt’s first Orange & White Game might not break any records. But he’s in position for a strong showing this Saturday.
And he needs and wants support from the Vol faithful this Saturday.