A big gripe Vol fans had about Tennessee’s previous head football coach, Butch Jones, was that he shied away from expectations. After the Vols’ game against Missouri in 2016 when they were eliminated from contention from winning the SEC East, Jones refused to talk about UT not accomplishing their goals, instead dropping his now infamous “Champions of Life” comment.
There was that, Jones’ praising of the fact that he won 18 games in two seasons, and his comments about those two years being the best era of UT football in a decade. Vol fans felt that expectations had been lowered at Tennessee under Jones, and he was running from what Tennessee football was supposed to be historically.
Under Jeremy Pruitt, that doesn’t appear like it will be a problem.
Pruitt was at his second-ever SEC Media Days on Tuesday. After he spoke on the main stage in front of the gathered crowd, he sat down at the news desk with the SEC Now crew to answer some questions from them. While there, Pruitt was asked about the expectations at Tennessee and whether he was surprised by reactions and expectations from fans, media, and others.
Not only was Pruitt not surprised by the lofty expectations of a historically successful program, but he’s not hiding from them, either.
“I grew up in north Alabama, and I played at the University of Alabama. When I played at Alabama, we didn’t beat Tennessee, so I know the expectations,” Pruitt told the SEC Now crew. “I know the expectations living on that Alabama-Tennessee line. It’s not something that we run from. It’s something we want to embrace.
“If you look at our staff, we’ve been a part of 16 national championships, so we know what great is. We know what it’s supposed to look like. That’s our expectations. You’ve gotta work on the details every day to get there.”
Pruitt grew up in Rainsville, Alabama — which is less than an hour from the Tennessee state line — and he played defensive back for Middle Tennessee State University before transferring to Alabama. Pruitt’s Tide teams in 1995 and 1996 never beat the Vols, and he played when Tennessee was entering its peak in college football.
Since those days, Tennessee has fallen pretty far. Vol fans know that. From winning a national title in 1998 and competing for SEC championships in 2001, 2004, and 2007, the Vols have now had a losing record in six of the last nine years and have missed getting to a bowl game in six of the last 11 seasons.
But historically speaking, that’s not the Tennessee program. The Vol football program is one of the winningest football programs in the country, and Pruitt’s goal is to get Tennessee back to playing like one.
How close is his current team to reaching that goal? Pruitt was asked about that, and while he admits they aren’t quite there yet, he still likes the progress his team has made and the potential on the roster.
“We finally this spring had enough big men to go practice the way you’re supposed to practice to try to get there,” Pruitt stated. “The first spring, we did not, so that kinda puts you further behind. We’ve added some pieces to the puzzle with this signing class, and I can’t say enough about the players who we inherited, how hard they’ve worked to change their bodies, to create the right habits.
“We got a lot of really good football players on our team, and we got guys who have potential to be good football players. Right now we’re probably a little more on the potential side just because we have a young team.”
Tennessee will have a chance to tap into that potential and work towards reaching those expectations starting on August 31st when they host Georgia State to kick off their 2019 football season.