Column: Pruitt’s Confidence in Staff More Warranted Than Butch’s

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    (Photo via Wes Rucker/247Sports)

    During his appearance on the main stage at SEC Media Days this year, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt raved about his coaching staff. In fact, he said his group of coaches might be the best coaching staff in all of college football.

    “So one thing, I just wanted to name all of these guys, okay, because I’m excited about these guys,” Pruitt said after naming off all his assistant coaches and discussing them in his opening statement. “I think it’s one of the best staffs, if not the best staff in the country when you just look at the track record. The men on this staff have been a part of 16 national championship staffs, okay, so we’ve seen greatness. We know what great looks like.

    “You know, I don’t know how many number of conference championships or draft picks that we’ve coached, but we’ve been a part of winning a championship. And that’s our plan, that’s our goal at the University of Tennessee.”

    Tennessee’s newest additions to the coaching staff this offseason — Jim Chaney, Derrick Ansley, and Tee Martin — bring tons of SEC experience and coaching experience overall. And Pruitt thinks those three coaches make UT’s coaching staff even more elite.

    “I think with the additions of Jim Chaney, Tee Martin, and Derrick Ansley, I think it takes our staff to a whole new level,” Pruitt said on the set of SEC Now during SEC Media Days.

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    It’s clear Pruitt has immense confidence in his coaching staff, but Vol fans have heard this before.

    Back in December of 2012, Butch Jones made a similar statement about his soon-to-be coaching staff at Tennessee when he was hired as head coach.

    “I can assure you,” Jones said at his introductory press conference that day, “we will put together the best football staff in the country. Not just the Southeastern Conference, but the entire country.”

    Jones brought in eight new coaches to go along with his lone holdover from the 2012 Derek Dooley staff, running backs coach Jay Graham. But after National Signing Day came and went in February of 2013, Graham left Jones’ staff and was replaced by Robert Gillespie.

    Need a refresher of what Jones’ “best football staff in the country” looked like? Here’s Jones’ first coaching staff at Tennessee:

    • Mike Bajakian – offensive coordinator
    • John Jancek – defensive coordinator
    • Willie Martinez – defensive backs/associate head coach for defense
    • Steve Stripling – defensive line/associate head coach
    • Tommy Thigpen – linebackers
    • Don Mahoney – offensive line
    • Zach Azzanni – wide receivers/recruiting coordinator
    • Mark Elder – tight ends/special teams coordinator
    • Robert Gillespie – running backs

    That initial staff had promise and some experience, but overall failed to deliver on Jones’ promise.

    Heading into the 2013 season, Jones’ collection of nine on-field coaches had one combined national title prior to their arrival at Tennessee. Tommy Thigpen was Auburn’s safeties coach when they won the 2010 National Championship.

    Other than that, Jones’ staff had minimal championship experience.

    Martinez had two SEC titles and three division titles to his name before coming to Tennessee, and Jones, Bajakian, and Jancek all were on the same staff that won two Big East titles together at Cincinnati. Jancek helped Georgia win an SEC championship, and Stripling also had a few conference titles to his name, as did Elder and Mahoney.

    Tennessee’s 2013 coaching staff had a combined 23 years of coaching experience in the SEC, and Willie Martinez had nearly half of that all by himself with 10 years of prior experience at Auburn and Georgia.

    But if you compare that to the track records of Pruitt’s coaches heading into the 2019 season, there’s no comparison at all.

    Including Pruitt himself, Tennessee’s coaching staff heading into the 2019 season have helped teams win over a dozen combined national championships. As a defensive coordinator and assistant coach, Pruitt helped Alabama and Florida State win five national titles.

    Both Chris Rumph (co-defensive coordinator/outside linebackers) and Derrick Ansley (defensive coordinator/defensive backs) have two national title rings, and both Kevin Sherrer (inside linebackers/special teams coordinator) and Tracy Rocker (defensive line) have credit for one national title apiece.

    As off-field assistants, quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke and tight ends coach Brian Niedermeyer both were part of the 2017 Alabama team that won a national title, and Weinke won one as a player in 2000 with Florida State. The same goes for Tee Martin, the Vols’ assistant head coach/passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach. He led the Vols to the 1998 national title.

    Jim Chaney, the Vols’ new offensive coordinator, hasn’t won any national titles, but he’s been on four different staffs that have won conference titles, including the 2017 Georgia squad that won the SEC Championship.

    Speaking of conference titles, Pruitt and his staff have helped their previous teams win over two dozen conference titles prior to coming to UT, and they own even more division titles to their resumes.

    Counting Pruitt, the Vols’ 2019 coaching staff had a combined 49 years of on-field coaching experience in the SEC prior to their arrival to Tennessee in either 2018 or 2019. That doesn’t include their times in off-field roles or as graduate assistants, either.

    On paper, Pruitt’s coaching staff heading into 2019 blows Jones’ 2013 coaching staff out of the water. But that’s on paper and based off results at other schools; Pruitt and his coaches haven’t done anything significant at Tennessee yet, and they still have much to prove.

    Still, Pruitt’s confidence in his staff and his claim that UT’s coaching staff is “one of the best in the country” is much more warranted than the same claim Jones made over five years ago. Now they just have to prove it at Tennessee.