Jeremy Pruitt has seen plenty of ups and downs during his tenure as Tennessee’s head coach: a 5-7 record in 2018, losses to Georgia State and BYU to begin the 2019 season, and then an eight-game win streak that carried over into 2020.
The most recent wave has turned against him once again.
After starting this season 2-0 with wins over South Carolina and Missouri, the Vols have dropped two straight. Those losses were by a combined total of 50 points, including a 34-7 blowout to Kentucky at home.
These latest struggles have put the spotlight back on Pruitt. What has he actually achieved at Tennessee? He’s done some good things, but there’s been a lot of bad mixed in there as well. As Jimmy Hyams points out on Twitter, the former defensive coordinator is 0-7 against SEC big boys Alabama, Florida and Georgia:
These numbers aren't pretty for UT coach Jeremy Pruitt. He is 0-7 v. Alabama, Georgia and Florida with average margin of defeat 27.7 points (each by at least 22 points). Butch Jones started 0-7 against that trio with average margin of defeat 10.1 points (4 by 3 points or less).
— Jimmy Hyams (@JimmyHyams) October 20, 2020
These three have consistently been top 10 teams since long before Pruitt ever arrived in Knoxville, and previous head coaches were unable to reel in comparable talent to the Tennessee roster. So Pruitt does not deserve all the blame.
However, as Hyams notes, losses are not the only problem for Pruitt. The Vols’ margin of defeat has drastically increased under his leadership. UT is heading in the wrong direction, and the fans aren’t going to tolerate it much longer.
The good news is that, despite competing in a conference loaded with talent, Pruitt and the rest of the coaching staff have done a good job recruiting. Here is how the last four classes have stacked up:
- 2018: No. 21 (No. 8 in SEC)
- 2019: No. 13 (No. 7)
- 2020: No. 10 (No. 7)
- 2021: No. 9 (No. 4) — current rankings, not finalized
If you want to be competitive in the SEC, you have to have the talent to do it, and Pruitt has shown gradual improvement in this area. At one point, the Vols even had a top class for 2021. But success on the recruiting trail has to start translating to success on the field.
Alabama coach Nick Saban is currently on a four-game stretch against former assistants. He’s currently 3-0, and Pruitt will be the next protégé to get a crack at him in the regular season. With Tennessee sitting as a 21-point home dog, it’s unlikely that an upset comes this weekend.
But a major win against a top rival has to come soon.
If the Vols are unable to pull an upset over Alabama, their last opportunity will come against Florida in Week 10. The Gators are vulnerable this year, but Tennessee will have to turn things around quickly if they want to beat them.
Pruitt is beloved by most Tennessee fans, so the idea that athletic director Phillip Fulmer would be looking to make a change soon is unrealistic. But if Pruitt can’t beat a top rival soon, he’ll reach the end of his leash.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.