Late last night, it was reported that Tennessee’s discussions with former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze were “dormant but not dead” for him to join UT as their new offensive coordinator. But as of today, things aren’t trending positively in that direction.
ESPN’s Chris Low appeared on The Swain Event morning radio show in Knoxville on Wednesday, and he provided an update on Tennessee’s search for a new offensive coordinator. And for those hoping for Hugh Freeze to come to Tennessee, it wasn’t a positive update.
“I’m not going to call it dead, but I think it’s probably trending toward not happening,” Low said of Hugh Freeze. “I know that’s the guy Jeremy Pruitt, after doing his due diligence and talking to people, felt like in his mind from a football standpoint he’s the guy. I don’t know that Phillip Fulmer, the AD there at Tennessee, was ready to go down that path right now. Again, not just based simply on what he wanted, but in talking to people in and around football and people who have worked with Hugh Freeze.”
It’s been reported multiple times now that there are “hurdles” that Tennessee has been looking at when it comes to hiring Freeze. The former Ole Miss head coach has a stellar track record as a coach, but his past transgressions off the field have kept UT’s higher ups a little more cautious.
And for a school that’s dealt with Title IX issues and other NCAA issues in the last 5-10 years, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry in that regard.
“You better, at the very least, do your due diligence and make sure this is the road you need to go down,” Low added when discussing the hangups with Freeze and UT. “And I’m not saying which side of that is right.”
If there was a concern from Tennessee’s administration and potentially even from Tennessee Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer about hiring Freeze in the first place, then why was his name ever allowed to leak out? And why was head coach Jeremy Pruitt ever allowed to go interview him?
According to Low, that could be attributed to some poor communication.
“Somewhere, the communication probably needs to be worked on because probably you shouldn’t even go talk to Hugh Freeze in the first place and it become a public deal to get to this point,” Low stated. “Maybe part of that is because communication wasn’t the best — whether that was Jeremy being dogged and was determined to go talk to Freeze, I don’t know.
“Remember, you’re dealing with a first-time head coach, a first-time Athletic Director, a new Chancellor. There’s a lot of new there.”
A lot of Tennessee’s most powerful players in the football program are doing their respective jobs for the first time in their careers. Jeremy Pruitt has never been a head coach, and Phillip Fulmer has never been an AD. Both are still learning on the job, and that’s not exactly ideal when a program is trying to rebuild from the depths Tennessee has fallen to.
But there’s one thing that Chris Low says he has no doubt in, and that’s Fulmer’s passion for Tennessee. Low believes both Fulmer and Pruitt are on the same page when it comes to trying to get Tennessee back, even if they may disagree on a few finer details at times.
“Phillip Fulmer, to his core, is Tennessee. He wants Tennessee to be great again in football,” Low said. “He has reminded people repeatedly since he got the job (as AD) that his first order of business is to fix football on all levels. I think that’s what he truly in his heart wants to do. Now, is he going to make every right decision? I don’t know. Jeremy Pruitt, I know, is committed to making Tennessee football relevant again. Has he made mistakes as a first-time head coach? Has he done everything the right way the first time? No.
“But I can promise you both Phillip Fulmer and Jeremy Pruitt are on the same page as far as doing what it takes.”
With it looking highly unlikely that Hugh Freeze will be Tennessee’s next OC and with no imminent hire on the horizon, what happens now?
Low believes, like it’s been reported before, that Pruitt will hit start over on the search, reset, and see what options are available to him now that some more moves have been made across college football.
“I think there’s a good chance Jeremy will not rush this now and hit the reset button and see what else is out there,” Low said. “It’s never as easy as it seems from the outside from a media perspective or a fan perspective. But this is sort of all too familiar for Tennessee fans in going down this road again.”