Phillip Fulmer knows a thing or two about coaching. He was the head football coach for Tennessee for 17 seasons, and he served as an assistant with the Big Orange for over a decade before that. He’s been on both sides of the interview process for finding coaches, and he knows what to look for in potential candidates.
Back in December, Fulmer found himself making one of the biggest decisions of his professional career. He was hired as Tennessee’s Athletics Director on December 1st, 2017 after John Currie was suspended from his duties. Fulmer was tasked with continuing the search for Tennessee’s next head football coach, and he had a diminished pool in which to search after Currie had exhausted some options already.
It only took Fulmer six days to find his man, though, and he hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to take over at Tennessee.
But what made Pruitt stand out to Fulmer over the other candidates he spoke to? According to Fulmer, Pruitt’s sincerity set him apart, and so far the Vols’ new head coach has followed through on everything he said he’d do.
“You never know for sure unless you’ve been around the person,” Fulmer said of Pruitt to reporters on Thursday. “People can tell you one thing and do another, and that’s often the case. But he’s done exactly what he’s said he’s going to do in the interview. He’s exactly what I thought from a detail person, from an organized person.”
Pruitt has yet to coach a single game for Tennessee, but the early returns from the Vols’ newest head coach have been positive both on the recruiting trail and on the practice field. Fans seem ready to buy in as long as the on-field results reflect the early offseason results. And it appears Fulmer has already bought in.
According to Fulmer, Pruitt hit the ground running as soon as he accepted the job at Tennessee. Pruitt’s no nonsense approach to coaching is another plus to UT’s new AD, and Fulmer is even more satisfied with his decision to hire Pruitt than he was back in December.
“He brought seven guys in here the second day,” Fulmer stated. “He’s got a really good staff around him, and they are football coaches. He’s not about fluff. I like that. I like his black and white. He’s a good communicator, though he’s not a great communicator if he doesn’t get what he wants. But then we work through all that. I like that he’s driven.
“Four months into it, I’m more sure now that we got the right guy, and I was pretty happy then. We’re headed in a good direction.”
Vol fans often criticized former head coach Butch Jones for his focus on superfluous details and not on actual in-game coaching. One area that showed that most prominently was during Tennessee’s annual spring game, the Orange & White Game. The last few years of Jones’ tenure saw the Orange & White Game transition from a game-like scrimmage to more of an event that had contests, drills, and “skills competitions.”
But that won’t be the case under Pruitt.
This year’s Orange & White Game promises to return the format back to an actual game-like situation for coaches and players. And Fulmer, a former head coach himself, appreciates that.
“I love it,” Fulmer said of Pruitt’s decision to make the Orange & White Game more like a game. “Most of the time, we had a real game. I like what he’s doing because he’s testing his team in more of a game-like situation.”
Jeremy Pruitt is still in the honeymoon phase with fans, media, and Tennessee’s administration. He’s yet to coach an actual game as the Vols’ head coach, and coaches are always judged by their wins and losses.
But as for now, Pruitt is doing everything right according to his boss. And Phillip Fulmer is as good a judge as anyone when it comes to knowing what being a successful Tennessee head coach is all about.