RTI contributor Adam McCracken contributed to this article
After a 22-minute opening statement that was followed by questions from the media, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt seemed much more comfortable in almost every facet when speaking at the 2019 SEC Media Days. The second-year head coach not only looked more comfortable with the media, but he seems more comfortable with his team, too.
Obviously, a 5-7 season wasn’t something Pruitt was pleased with, but he made it known the football program has taken many strides in his short time at Tennessee.
Pruitt mentioned how establishing routines and continuity have played a major role in that growth.
“After being there for a year, we know the players that we have. We know what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and I think that’s been extremely important in the development of our football team,” Pruitt said on the main stage at SEC Media Days. “Obviously, the longer you do something, the better you get at it. So, guys are playing the same position they played last fall throughout the spring.”
With many players switching positions in his first year as head coach at Tennessee, it’s been a welcome sight to see players given time to truly develop at one position. Spring practices this year weren’t nearly as hectic as in 2018.
That familiarity with the roster carried over to the recruiting trail as well. Pruitt and his staff knew better what holes the roster had, and they recruited to fix those areas.
“We knew how we wanted to plug (recruits) in. So we recruited to the team that we had,” Pruitt added. “We’ve made lots of strides.”
Pruitt is known around the recruiting world for the relationships he has built, and it definitely makes helps when a recruit knows exactly where they will fit in the program.
It has been a process for Pruitt to really insert his direction into Tennessee’s program. After two recruiting cycles, Pruitt is finally getting the chance to mix in his own players. His familiarity and comfort with his players is manifesting in how the players are reacting this offseason.
One of the big signs of players buying in to Pruitt was the difference in players committing themselves to the weight room and offseason bonding compared to last year.
“We had 60 guys that attended May mini-mester. Lots of times every time I coached, most everybody goes home in May,” Pruitt stated. “We had 60 guys that did not. They chose to be at the University of Tennessee to continue to work in the weight room, to take another class. I think that says a lot about the directions of our program.
“If I look back from the year before, we had like 20. So we’ve tripled that in a year’s time. So I think we’ll see a little dividends this fall by the extra work that these guys have put in.”
Year two under Pruitt will be a huge gauge for the direction of this program. From the new coaches, to recruiting, and player development, Pruitt has done everything he can so far to make that leap.
The only real question that remains is whether the changes and the continuity will end with results. For Pruitt, mediocrity is not in the books any longer.