If you’re looking for the reason Tennessee has fallen as far as they have, look no further than UT’s previous coaching staff’s inability to identify talent. At least, that’s what Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt insinuated on Friday.
Pruitt met with the media on Friday to discuss his recent coaching staff hires. During his press conference, he was asked about the biggest difference between the Vols’ roster this year compared to this time last year. And his answer wasn’t very flattering toward Tennessee’s previous coaching staff and their recruiting efforts.
“If you look at us this time last year, there was not a lot of familiarity with the roster,” Pruitt explained. “There were very few guys that I had a relationship with. There were very few guys that I even recruited at other stops. We really did not know a bunch about what we were getting in each individual player.”
Tennessee hauled in several top 10 and top 15 recruiting classes under former head coach Butch Jones. But as Vol fans have seen over the last couple seasons, those recruiting class proved to be paper tigers more than anything else. And Pruitt confirmed as much.
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According to 247Sports, Tennessee’s 2015, 2016, and 2017 recruiting classes — the last three recruiting classes Butch Jones and his staff were fully responsible for before Pruitt took over — ranked 4th, 14th, and 17th respectively. As a whole, those three classes brought in three players rated as a five-star prospect and another 28 rated as a four-star recruit according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
But, rankings aren’t everything. And apparently most of Tennessee’s talented players were over-ranked.
Not only that, but a large portion of those 31 four-and-five-star recruits weren’t even on the roster by the time Pruitt took over as head coach anyway. Whether it was because they transferred off the team, got kicked off, or declared early for the NFL Draft, eight of those 31 prospects weren’t on UT’s roster once the fall of 2018 came around.
Still, that leaves 23 players rated as four-stars or five-stars on Tennessee’s roster from the 2015, 2016, and 2017 classes that Pruitt inherited. That also includes former four-star prospects Todd Kelly Jr. and Dillon Bates from the 2014 class.
All in all, Tennessee’s roster last year had nearly 60 scholarship players on it that Pruitt didn’t bring onto the team.
But according to Pruitt, he didn’t recruit very many of those players during his stops at Florida State, Georgia, and Alabama before he was hired on as Tennessee’s head coach.
Pruitt and his staff scrambled and put together a solid early signing period class in the 2018 cycle, and they brought in several more players in the next month and a half to sign Tennessee’s 2018 class in February of last year. This 2019 class was Pruitt’s first full cycle as UT’s head coach, and the results improved on the recruiting trail. The Vols signed 12 players rated as four-stars or higher in the 2019 class according to 247Sports, which passed last year’s total of eight four-star prospects that UT signed.
Tennessee’s second-year coach knows these recruits much better, and he knows his team as a whole much better after spending a year with them. And that has him much more optimistic about this spring.
“One thing that is going to give us a jump start in the second year is we know the players and the guys we recruited,” Pruitt said. “We know how the puzzle is supposed to fit together, and our returning guys have an expectation of offseason conditioning. To me, that is exciting, because the first day of spring ball we will have a chance for guys to be playing positions that they will be playing in the fall. They will get 15 practices in positions that they will play in the fall, and that did not necessarily happen last year.
“From a player standpoint, guys are going to have a chance to improve in a hurry.”
Pruitt will need his roster to improve as quickly as he hopes, because SEC football isn’t patient. Plus, Vol fans have been asked to wait more times than they can count, and they’re exhausted with it.
With the early results Pruitt has shown on the field, on the recruiting trail, and in his coaching hires, he’s bought some positive equity with Tennessee fans. They’ll be very excited if this team does “improve in a hurry” like he thinks they can.