Every year, coaches around college football go “on the record” with various media outlets and share their honest opinions on other college programs in exchange for complete anonymity. Most of the time, even anonymity doesn’t change the usual coach speak you hear from any coach at a major program. But sometimes a quote or two will be blunt or catch fans off guard.
Athlon Sports spoke with several SEC coaches and offered them anonymity so as to get honest feedback from those coaches about the other teams in the SEC. When speaking about Tennessee, few of the quotes really stood out. One, however, was rather interesting.
One anonymous SEC coach gave Butch Jones more credit as a recruiter than Vol fans — or even the Tennessee program, as the coach states — are willing to.
“Butch Jones did a better job recruiting than what they’re telling media,” the coach said. “The players he brought in are still playing the bulk of the time, and not a lot of the Pruitt recruits have broken past them on the depth chart, though that could change this year. They’ve recruited well so far for the system Jeremy wants.”
The anonymous coach’s comments about Jones’ players still playing the bulk of the time is mostly true, but it’s also worth noting that Jeremy Pruitt and his staff have only had a chance to bring in two recruiting classes, and his first class (the 2018 class) was still somewhat a mix of Butch Jones targets and Pruitt signees.
Even still, a large portion of Pruitt recruits, such as Dominick Wood-Anderson, Jahmir Johnson, Jerome Carvin, Wanya Morris, Darnell Wright, Emmit Gooden, Alontae Taylor, Bryce Thompson, Trevon Flowers, Savion Williams, Warren Burrell, Quavaris Crouch, and Henry To’oto’o, all figure to be fighting for starting jobs or playing significant snaps this fall.
Some of the players Jones recruited, such as Jarrett Guarantano, Marquez Callaway, Ty Chandler, Jauan Jennings, Josh Palmer, Darrell Taylor, Daniel Bituli, Nigel Warrior, and possibly Trey Smith, will be major contributors for the Vols this season. That speaks to the previous staff’s ability to at least identify talent.
But recruiting wasn’t exactly the issue with Jones; developing those players and helping them reach their potential was the biggest knock against him and his assistant coaches.
Of the 46 players rated as four or five-stars who were signed by Butch Jones in the 2013 through 2016 classes (according to the 247Sports Composite rankings), only seven ended up being drafted into the NFL, and one of those (Jalen Hurd) wasn’t drafted as a Vol. Only nine of those 46 players are still on Tennessee’s roster, leaving 30 players undrafted, kicked off, or still on other college rosters.
Pruitt, meanwhile, has helped 52 players get drafted into the NFL as a defensive coordinator and position coach in the 2012-2018 NFL Drafts prior to being hired as Tennessee’s head coach. Tennessee had a total of just 17 players drafted into the NFL from 2012-18, and Jones was only responsible for 12 of those draft picks.
So far under Pruitt, the Vols have signed 44 total players in the 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes, and 20 have been rated as four-stars or higher in the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Tennessee may not have had any players drafted into the NFL last year, but Pruitt and his coaching staff have proven at previous stops that they know how to develop pro talent. Barring a major rash of injuries in 2019, the Vols should see a handful of players selected in the 2020 NFL Draft next year.
Butch Jones and his staff could recruit well enough to survive in the SEC, but they couldn’t develop the talent they brought in. Pruitt’s success or failure at Tennessee will be dependent on his ability to do better than his predecessor in that regard.