It’s the offseason, which means Jeremy Pruitt is making his way around SEC Country completing interviews with multiple radio shows.
On Wednesday morning, Pruitt joined “3 Man Front” with Cole Cubelic, Aaron Suttles, and Landrum Roberts on Birmingham-based WJOX-FM. He spent about 10 minutes speaking with the two hots on his new staff hires, how he and his staff can recruit effectively, Trey Smith’s status, and more.
Here’s everything Tennessee’s second-year head coach said during the interview:
On the biggest blowout he’s ever been a part of (sparked by the US Women’s National Team’s blowout of Thailand on Tuesday):
“Well, you know, those are the ones you never forget. I’ve been on the good end of ’em and the bad end of ’em. I can’t say one sticks out, but you also try to forget them. When you’re a part of them, you have to start over the next day and figure out some of the things you did well, and some of the things you made mistakes on. You have to correct ’em. You learn from ’em and put it behind you and move on.”
On if he’s dialed back being aggressive until he gets his style of player on the roster:
“As a defensive play-caller, your corners place limitation on your defense. We had young corners last year here, and I think they have a chance to be really good players. If you wanna play the right style of defense, you have to have an aggressive mindset. You gotta try to put the opposing team on their heels. I’ve always been under the philosophy of, ‘let’s try to get them before they get us.’ I think if you call that way and you try to coach the game and prepare your kids that way, they kind of take on that mindset.”
On the biggest difference post-spring this year compared to after his first spring at UT:
“We know our team. Coming in here, there were very few guys I was familiar with. When you don’t know people, you try to try them out and figure them out. After we’ve been here for a year, we know their strengths, their weaknesses. So this spring, those guys had a home. There wasn’t moving a bunch of guys around. There wasn’t, ‘Are they an inside-backer, an outside backer? Are they a guard, a tackle? A corner, a safety?’ You know where they are. And with the guys we recruited, we recruited them with a plan and knew where they were going to fit into the piece of the puzzle. So, when we started this spring and you go all the way back to you’re allowed to have a couple hours a week with ’em, OTAs, whatever you wanna call it. The guys had a home. The longer you do something, the better you get at it. You obviously could see that with our team through 15 practices. We’ve made tremendous strides in the last 18 months in the weight room with our nutrition program. We’ve still got a young team. We’ve got 10 seniors, and we only had nine last year. So, we’ve got a young team, but the physical maturity and having confidence in what they’re doing now, I see a difference.”
On Tennessee’s defensive line coach Tracy Rocker’s son, Kumar Rocker, throwing a no-hitter for Vanderbilt:
“I’m very familiar with Kumar because me and Tracy coached together at Georgia, and I actually went and watched him pitch a couple of times in high school. His success is no surprise. You could see it as a young kid in high school. He was a really, really good football player, and he quit playing after his sophomore year because he was trying to keep that right arm healthy.
I knew that Kumar was the Sunday starter for Vanderbilt this past year. I knew it was the second game of the Super Regional, and we were hosting a couple of recruits, and I got to noticing Tracy was looking at his phone under the table. So, I walked over there to him and asked him ‘what are you watching,’ and he told me – you know Tracy don’t say a whole lot – he said he’s (Kumar) pitching tonight. Anyhow, when we got done with the recruits I went home and flipped on the TV and I’m sitting there watching, and I think it’s probably the top of the seventh or the bottom of the seventh, I can’t remember and I saw he had a no-hitter. That’s not surprising based off his ability and work ethic and what he’s done. I know Tracy’s really proud and Mrs. Lou. I know he’s excited when he pitches out in Omaha. He’s going to go out there and watch him.”
On if landing an elite player such as Henry To’oto’o from California is concrete evidence he’s building the program the right way:
“It starts with a little bit of the history with the program here. It’s no secret, the last 10 years haven’t been to the standard that everybody associated with the University expects. Last year was absolutely not to the standard I expect, but you have to start somewhere, and we have. I think it says a lot about our staff. You look at our staff and who they’ve developed over the years and what type of men they are. You’re only as good as the team that you coach or the players that you coach. I think the fact that we’ve built relationships over the years with people in the high school ranks, I feel like the guys that are on our staff, if you go back and check their track record individually as coaches, as coordinators on teams they’ve represented, I would put our staff up against anybody in the country. Once you come to the University of Tennessee and you meet the people here across campus, everybody that touches our players, our facilities, the passion of our fanbase – we have a lot to sell here and a lot to offer to the student athlete.”
On how the integration of Jim Chaney has gone, especially with Jarrett Guarantano:
“Well, Jim is a veteran. He’s been in this league a long time. If you’re going to coach college football, sometimes you have to change jobs. Sometimes it’s because you choose to, sometimes it’s because the powers that be choose to change folks. You learn to adapt, you learn to put in new systems. I think Jim has done a fantastic job. He’s done a really nice job within our staff. Those guys are really on the same page. It’s unique that the fact that Jim has never coached with any of the guys, but they’ve hit it off from a personality standpoint, a belief in what we’re trying to get done here. I think it’s translated to our players. They’ve done a really good job of building relationships with our player. It’s very personal. And I think our guys have done a nice job this spring in the 15 practices, implementing a plan, creating a standard and expectation that they expect them to work to every single day when it comes to preparation on and off the field, and even in the classroom.
I really like the vibe in our program right now on both sides of the ball. Our players are heavily involved in recruiting, our team likes each other. It’s one of those deals where this time last year, when you’re in the office, you never see the players. Now we can’t run them out of our office. They’re up here all the time. I’m real excited about this football team.”
On his roommate in college – Freddie Kitchens – being the head coach of the Cleveland Browns:
“Freddie is a guy that I’ve known since all the way back in high school. He’s been in the league for a long time. I actually went up there the other day and watched ’em practice. They’ve put together a really good staff, done a nice job through Jimmy Haslam, the owner there, John Dorsey, the GM, just all of them working together, being on the same page, building a team. I know a lot of folks in Cleveland are excited about this year’s football team. I watched them the other day, and it’s very similar to us. I see a big difference from last year to this year.”
An update on Trey Smith:
“It’s no secret. The situation he had last year, our medical staff done a fantastic job recognizing the situation and monitoring through the year. Had a good plan and decided it was in his best interest to shut him down. Trey has done absolutely everything this offseason. He’s probably in the best shape of his life. When we got here, he weighed 360 pounds. Now, he weighs 321. He does absolutely everything everybody on our team does. The only thing he doesn’t do is, he doesn’t have contact. That goes along with the medicine that he’s taking. He’s working hard along with his family and our doctors to create a plan to hopefully resume playing at Tennessee.”