Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt and most of his staff have earned reputations for being solid recruiters at their previous stops. Pruitt helped bring in monster classes at Alabama, Georgia, and Florida State, and several of his assistants have recruited at high levels at SEC schools or other Power Five programs.
And it’s clear that Pruitt and company aren’t just hype in that regard; recruits consistently have great things to say about the Vols’ new head coach and the staff he’s built around him.
Rivals.com interviewed several different prospects in the 2019 and 2020 classes recently, and they asked them about the coaching changes in the SEC. Tennessee wasn’t the only SEC school to make a new hire this offseason, as Florida, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, and Arkansas all hired new head coaches after the 2017 season as well. The trio of Rivals analysts who interviewed the prospects asked them all a series of questions: Which hire caught your eye the most, which new head coach will have the most success in 2018, and which new head coach will be the first to win an SEC title?
And Pruitt’s name popped up fairly consistently in all three categories.
Four-star 2019 defensive end Derrick McClendon and four-star 2020 quarterback Harrison Bailey were two of the prospects highest on Pruitt and Tennessee in the interviews. When asked which hire stood out to him most, McClendon had nothing but positives to say about Pruitt and two of the defensive coaches he hired.
“Coach Pruitt, he was almost like a head coach himself at every school he has been at,” McClendon said. “He had the green light. I just believe he is going to turn that program around. It is almost like he put an all-star program together. Coach Tracy Rocker, coach Chris Rumph, they are going to turn it around.”
When asked which head coach would be the first to win an SEC title, McClendon didn’t hesitate. “Tennessee. Coach Pruitt,” he stated.
Bailey, who is rated early as one of the top pro-style quarterbacks in the 2020 class, was similarly high on Pruitt. He also said Pruitt’s hire caught his attention the most, and he also picked Pruitt and the Vols as the team most likely to win an SEC title first.
“I’ve talked with coach Pruitt. He’s pretty cool,” Bailey said. “He’s a good coach, and I think they’re going to do well.
“The coaches they brought in across the board will help them a lot.”
Emmanuel Jenkins, a three-star cornerback out of Georgia in the 2019 class, was also extremely complimentary of Pruitt and Tennessee. He believes Pruitt will have the most success in 2018 among the new hires, and he also picked Tennessee’s new head coach to be the first to win a conference championship.
“I think Tennessee, especially with Pruitt, they’ll change the system around,” Jenkins stated. “I’ve been out to a few of their spring practices, and they’re really getting after it.
“I just think they’re going to make a drastic change this year.”
That type of “drastic change” was a sentiment echoed by several of the recruits in the interviews. Three-star defensive end Daniel Lavelle and four-star offensive tackle Amari Kight both mentioned the culture change and big changes in Year One under Pruitt at Tennessee.
“I think that he’s going to turn around the program because they have been down a little bit,” Lavelle said of Pruitt. He also added that Tennessee “is probably going to have a turnaround season and surprise everybody” this season. And Kight agreed, stating that he’s “already seen (Pruitt) is changing the culture there, getting players and everything.”
Three-star tight end Garmon Randolph picked Pruitt as the hire that caught his eye the most, and three-stat tight end and current Clemson commit Jaelyn Lay also picked Pruitt as the hire that stood out most to him, adding that Tracy Rocker recruited him and the area around him in Clayton County, Georgia.
Of the 10 recruits who were asked about which hire caught their eye the most, four of them said Pruitt. He was the most popular choice in that category, followed by Florida’s hire of Dan Mullen. He was mentioned three times.
Pruitt and Tennessee were mentioned by four of the 14 recruits who gave answers to which coach would have the most success in 2018, and Pruitt was the answer for three of the 12 prospects who gave answers to which coach would win an SEC title first.
So far under Pruitt, the Vols have hauled in some notable recruits in the 2018, 2019, and 2020 classes. The Vols’ 2018 class finished 20th in the country according to 247Sports, and Pruitt and his staff were responsible for picking up commitments and signatures for 15 of the 22 players Tennessee added in that 2018 class after Pruitt was hired on December 7th, 2017. Of those 15 players, five were four-stars according to 247Sports.
Tennessee currently has four players committed in their 2019 class and four-star athlete Kristian Story committed in the 2020 class.