You won’t find a figure in Tennessee football history who means more to the Vols’ football program than General Robert Neyland. No coach in school history has coached in more games, won more contests, or won more national titles than the legendary Neyland. Even Tennessee’s gargantuan football stadium is named after him, and he had a hand in constructing it.
When it comes to Vol football, you don’t get any better than Robert Neyland. Unfortunately, the legend is no longer with us today, but his son, who played for his father on the 1951 National Championship team, is still alive. And he recently shared his thoughts on the Vols’ hiring of Jeremy Pruitt to lead the football program.
Robert Neyland Jr. sat down with Dan Harralson of Vols Wire to discuss Jeremy Pruitt and give his thoughts on Phillip Fulmer’s hiring of Pruitt as head football coach. According to Neyland Jr., Pruitt called him a few days after he was hired and the two met shortly thereafter. And the son of Neyland likes what he’s seen from the Vols’ new coach so far.
“I am convinced this is a guy that will tell his players either you get out there and you play with every bit of whatever talent you have or you are going to be sitting on the bench,” Neyland Jr. told Harralson. “I am convinced of that, and he has a tremendous resume with five national championships, one at Florida State and four at Alabama including last year when they held Georgia’s good offense to 23 points in overtime.”
To Neyland Jr.’s point, Georgia had been averaging the third-most points per game in the SEC (just over 36 points per game) before playing Alabama in the national title game. The Bulldogs’ 23 points in that match-up were the third-fewest points they had scored in a game all season. Their 365 yards of offense was also the third-lowest total of the entire season, as was their 4.74 yard per play in the contest.
Neyland Jr. likes Pruitt’s track record at other schools. And he likes the attitude he brings to Tennessee because it reminds him of his father.
“He was a hard-nosed coach,” Neyland Jr. said of his father. “He emphasized being tough and would say frequently before we went out on the field that ‘resolution and determination – that’s what’s going to win for you today’. He was tough and firm and by and large his players respected him and liked him.”
Pruitt seems to garner the same type of respect from his former players at his previous stops, and by all accounts most of Tennessee’s current players seem to like Pruitt’s approach as well.
Neyland Jr. isn’t predicting that Pruitt will be like his father, nor is he predicting an immediate turnaround for a Tennessee football program that has suffered over the last decade like it never has before. But the son of the legendary coach thinks there’s plenty of reason for optimism right now.
“I just know that he is going to be successful,” Neyland Jr. stated. “It won’t happen immediately, they are just too far down to happen immediately, but in a couple of years I think they will be on their way. It will take a little time and is not going to be an instant fix.”
General Robert Neyland coached 216 games across 21 seasons and won an astounding 173 of those contests, losing just 31 games and tying in another 12. He holds an all-time .829 winning percentage and held a 103-17 conference record during his time as head coach of the Vols.