Tennessee’s 2019 season has gotten off to a brutal start on the football field. Couple that with a disastrous ending to the 2018 season, and many Vol fans are left wondering where things have gone wrong after the Vols showed potential and promise after upset victories over Auburn and Kentucky in the first 10 games of the 2018 season.
Some Vol fans have called for the firing of head coach Jeremy Pruitt after the way the 2019 season has started, but that’s largely been a minority of the fan base doing so. Now, however, Pruitt and Tennessee’s shortcomings are grabbing the attention of the national media, and some national media members are already putting Pruitt on the hot seat just 16 games into his tenure as UT’s head coach.
Paul Myerberg of USA Today Sports compiled a list of eight head football coaches across college football who are on the hot seat after the first month of the season. Included alongside coaches like Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, USC’s Clay Helton, and South Florida’s Charlie Strong is Tennessee’s own Jeremy Pruitt.
“The wreck that is Tennessee might find its latest scapegoat in Pruitt, who is floundering in his second season while former coach and current athletics director Phil Fulmer looms over the program,” Myerberg writes. “The issues are too numerous to list in full. A short list: Tennessee is losing by huge margins to rivals, most recently Florida; is losing to teams the program has no business losing to, such as Georgia State; can’t find an offensive identity and has been unable to develop talent from well-regarded recruiting classes; and is constantly tripped up by the sort of errors that reflect poorly on the coaching staff.”
As Myerberg notes, the 2019 season has been a montage of lowlights for Tennessee so far, and the season is only four games old at this point.
Tennessee suffered an embarrassing season-opening loss to Georgia State, 38-30, in the last weekend of August. That loss marked the Vols’ first-ever defeat at the hands of a Sun Belt opponent, and it was the Panthers’ first-ever win over a Power Five program. Not only that, but the loss came against a Georgia State program that had only been playing football for a decade, and the Panthers went 2-10 the previous season before taking on the Vols.
That loss was followed up by a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to BYU, and then the Vols lost in blowout fashion to Florida for the second-straight season, falling 34-3 in Gainesville.
Since upsetting a top-15 Kentucky team to improve to 5-5 in 2018, the Vols have gone just 1-5 since, and three of those losses (Missouri and Vanderbilt in 2018, Florida in 2019) have come by 25 or more points. Throw in the fact that Tennessee’s starting quarterback, Jarrett Guarantano, seems to have regressed significantly in 2019, and there’s plenty of reason for concern.
Still, putting Pruitt on the hot seat barely a third of the way through his second season as head coach seems a bit of a stretch. But Myerberg isn’t the only one doing so.
According to CoachesHotSeat.com, not only is Pruitt on the hot seat right now, but he actually is on the hottest seat in all of college football. In their hot seat rankings, Pruitt comes in at No. 1 ahead of Lovie Smith at Illinois, Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech, Chad Morris at Arkansas, and Chip Kelly at UCLA. Pruitt is the only first-ever head coach in the top five, but he’s one of three head coaches in the top five who started their current head coaching gigs in 2018 (Morris and Kelly being the others).
Tennessee’s ugly 1-3 start to this season isn’t likely to improve any time soon, either. The Vols are hosting No. 3 Georgia for a 7:00 PM kick-off this upcoming Saturday, then they travel to Tuscaloosa to take on No. 1 Alabama two weeks later after a home game against Mississippi State sandwiched between those two contests.
There’s a real possibility Tennessee is 1-6 when they take on South Carolina to close out the month of October. At best, the Vols will likely be 2-5, which is still far below where fans expected UT to be at that point in the season before the 2019 campaign began.
Usually, a coach’s honeymoon period extends through to their first season and a half. Sometimes, it’ll last a whole two seasons depending on the extraneous circumstances. But when a team suffers historic losses and has all but a small handful of their losses result in blowouts, it’s hard to garner good will from fans and the national media alike. And that appears to already be the case for Pruitt.
It’s not too late for Pruitt to get himself off the perceived hot seat with a turnaround in 2019, but the odds don’t seem to be in UT’s favor of that happening.