Shy Tuttle

The Cold, Hard Truth About Tennessee Football

Our Tennessee Vols are not a good football team.

That doesn’t mean they won’t be or they can’t be. But they were awful in 2017, as we all know. And they didn’t look a whole lot better on Saturday.

They may say that you can’t tell a whole lot about a spring football game, and they’re right. But if you’ve been watching football as long as I have, you can tell when a team doesn’t have what it takes. This Vols team doesn’t. Yet.

Sure, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano looked much improved from a season ago, and there were times throughout the day when the first-team offense moved the ball well. That’s a good thing. It’s encouraging to see a player like senior Kyle Phillips look better after such a struggle-filled, injury-riddled career. He’s responded well to this new coaching staff, and it was evident Saturday. There’s good reason why Guarantano won the game’s MVP and Phillips was the spring’s top defensive performer.

But the Vols were very vanilla schematically with what it wanted to do. That makes the dreadful performance by the defense even more worrisome. Injuries was one main hindrance, and when some of the new guys get on campus this summer, they’ll help UT get a little better, too.

The SEC isn’t going anywhere, though, folks. First-year coach Jeremy Pruitt knows that. So, when he chided some of the players for quitting Saturday, it wasn’t without meaning or merit. As a matter of fact, the poor-mouthing was rampant in the postgame press conference, but what do you expect with what he was left with?

 

Ouch.

But what do you want him to say?

Do you want him to blow smoke and say we’re going to be good; to act like things are hunky-dorey? Do you want the Bob Shoop comments about a stud defense only to watch the tire fire that UT trotted out there the past couple of years? Do you want orange sunshine and unicorns trotting all over Rocky Top on a hillside strewn in lies?

I actually read several message-board posts today from fans who were perturbed with Pruitt calling out some of the fans for not filling Neyland Stadium on a beautiful spring afternoon. Still, a crowd of nearly 66,000 came to watch a bad team play in hopes that maybe what we had last year and what we thought we had this spring could magically improve before our eyes.

It hasn’t.

Say what you want about Pruitt chirping that some of the fans could have come and didn’t. After all, you can’t expect a proud group of fans fed up with failure to be fed McDonalds year after year and show up like they’re getting filet mignons. But even Pruitt’s comments for the fans weren’t all that bad. And they were weren’t false.

Pruitt wants the fans to come out and embrace something he can’t abide: A team that isn’t up to standards. I think the majority of us will once the season starts, but there’s really no reason to chide the fifth-largest attendance in school history for a practice game, especially when it was to watch a team you just spent the entire postgame press conference ripping.

They need to be ripped, though. And it’s a breath of fresh air that Pruitt is doing it. I don’t understand what some of you want. If you think he hasn’t “earned the right” to be so negative yet, to spend so much time talking about what Tennessee isn’t rather than trying to fix what it is, I think it’s obvious that’s what he’s ultimately trying to do. Is he a little surprised the roster is so bad? Sure, I think so. I mean, he watched the Vols get thrashed by his ‘Bama teams the past two years, but every coach has to believe they can come in and sprinkle some of their own secret sauce on the new team and have things improve.

The Vols may actually get better. Heck, I thought they were better on Saturday than they looked at any time during a historically horrible 2017 season. But they still aren’t anywhere near being where they need to be to be competitive in the SEC. Pruitt knows that, and he isn’t used to it. It’s going to take time for him to realize that it’s going to take a lot of time to get the Vols up to the standards he wants.

Pruitt has to recruit better than he’s currently recruiting. He needs to learn on the job the PR side of things — it took far too long for UT and the coaching staff to promote this spring game, and the mad dash to get the word out and try to “sell out” was too little, too late — but the football side of things will be fine. He isn’t going to tolerate quitting, and he isn’t going to tolerate failure when it comes to execution.

That’s why Saturday wasn’t acceptable to him. And while we all wanted a feel-good story to sweep us into the offseason, there simply isn’t one. There aren’t holes to fill as much as craters. There aren’t leadership gaps as much as gulfs. There isn’t a handful of players who’ve failed to live up to their recruiting rankings as much as the majority.

Thank Butch Jones for that. Seriously. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: This is the worst shape of any roster left by any coach since Bill Battle. It’s worse than what Phil Fulmer left Lane Kiffin after a few bad years of recruiting at the end. It’s much worse than what Kiffin left Derek Dooley, and I think it’s even worse than what Dooley left Jones.

There might be three players on this team that would start for Alabama. Three. Perhaps that’s generous. Trey Smith and Jauan Jennings (neither of which played Saturday) could, and maybe Nigel Warrior would. That’s it. That’s all.

So, pardon Pruitt’s frustration if he sees what we all should and fails to sugarcoat it. The time for looking through orange-colored glasses is over. This is a bad football team, and we all have to hope Pruitt’s time with Nick Saban will help him fix that. Our new coach has a lot to learn, and he certainly has a lot to prove. But he’s proved before that he can identify talent, recruit it, and develop it.

There isn’t a whole lot of development that has gone on in Knoxville the past few years, and that’s the painful, obvious takeaway from Saturday. Pruitt may be able to squeeze the most out of these guys yet, but how high is that ceiling? If Saturday was it (and I’m not saying I think it was), but IF it was, we’re in for another long season.

9 Comments

  1. “But he’s proved before that he can identify talent, recruit it, and develop it.”

    Just because I’m in full-on editing mode, I have to say I was really glad to see your Oxford comma there. 🙂

  2. The cupboard is fairly empty. We were 0-8 in the SEC because we had an intern coaching and developing players.

    For those expecting a bowl with a 6-6 record, I’d make a straight up bet against it. Doesn’t mean we can’t get to 500 – it just looks pretty dadgum unlikely.

    So, about basketball…

  3. Well, from my perspective it was about as boring as most of the games last year. Nothing really exciting happened. Just some ho-hum football that left me wanting more (which don’t get me wrong – I will take for now – because I love football).

    As for Pruitt, hard to get a read on him but he was intense on the field!! Doesn’t seem to be one that excepts mediocrity or taking plays off. I saw him and other coaches light-a-fire under a couple of players and I trust this will serve us well in the future. Have to say, he seems to speak his mind – which I like.

    Looking forward to next season!!

  4. The comment about the fans has been blown out of proportion, sure – that’s what we do around here – but it was definitely tone-deaf. That being said, it will most likely have been long forgotten when the games start counting.

    My initial reaction when I read the quote was “WTF was he expecting? He got roughly 45K (LOL at the ‘official’ number) to a scrimmage five months after literally the worst season in program history followed by an absolute circus of a coaching search. And he took out the fan-friendly part – autographs for fans – that brings a lot of people to this thing. How many people did he really expect to show up?”

    Obviously we shouldn’t be surprised (or offended) when the former Saban assistant talks like Saban, but Pruitt should know better than to say anything remotely critical about this fanbase after all it has been through and before he has accomplished anything here. I would imagine Fulmer will have a chat with him about the optics. If Pruitt can win some games he can talk about the fans however he wants.

    • I seem to recall a handful of stories about Kirby Smart being surprised at some cultural things in Athens in year one because he was used to Alabama/Saban.

    • Nebraska had over 85K to see a new coach and bring new attitude…or more accurately bring an old attitude back. How is that different from what we all want too? Just sayin’.

      I’ll copy a post I had on another site cause it’s applicable here…

      Recruiting at the highest level and then developing that talent is what has made Bama, UGA, and the rest of the elite…elite. Their fans don’t wait till they’re good to show up (~100K for OSU (not this year but typically), 82K for UGA, 74K for Bama). Sure 65k was the 4th highest in UT history, but how much better would a 3/4 full stadium look and sound vs lower bowl filled? That’s what Coach was talking about.

      People that complain…”I’m not coming till we win”, well I’d say they’re part of the problem. Hell Nebraska had 86k for a new coach this year. They’ve sucked the last couple of years too. Their fans didn’t wait till they were good to show up.

      I still maintain that our bitching about the team on social media last year contributed to the kids giving up…right, wrong, or indifferent. We could argue the merits of kids not mentally tough or whatever all day, but the fact is, they pay attention to what’s being written about them. When everyone around you says you suck, then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s no doubt in my mind that the kids didn’t even try the last few games last year. That effort was pathetic. Most on the coach, but we as fans own a part of that too. That defeatism is what Coach is trying to eradicate (media, players, staff, administration…and fans).

      For qualification of my social media statement. My son was a HS senior this past year. His basketball team started the season 8-1, won their Christmas tourney, was ranked in the top 30 in defense regardless of class in the state of Indiana (only a 2A school), and the second half of the season, they hit some adversity. Lost a couple of games they shouldn’t have (refs in one, poor coaching in another, and then effort started to creep in). They started the year being unselfish looking like the GS Warriors TEAM and ended the year with a bunch of individuals and got beat the first game of sectionals. Fans and students quit coming or sat on their hands if they did. Other sports coaches were asking in class, “why can’t you guys be good like football?”. Local radio said they just weren’t very good and then they started hearing it from their own head coach. He brought a 5’5″ 110# freshman 2 guard up to varsity to get him ready for next year. The kids quit caring. I saw the same thing with the Vols.

      • Nebraska hired the coach that their entire fanbase unanimously wanted. Not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. Regardless, we had the third-highest (announced) spring game attendance in the SEC, behind only the two teams that played in the National Championship Game. Ours was the fifth-highest in the country, ahead of programs like FSU, Clemson, and Ohio State. Complaining about the fans at this point is just silly.

        • It is bigger even than that. Nebraska hired their national championship winning hero who has ridden in to save the program. One of Frost’s strengths is selling himself. He is good at it and selling his program.

          Jeremy is simply not great with the media. He didn’t have to do interviews under Saban and he doesn’t like doing it so far as a head coach. Frankly Pruitt and the athletic department did a poor job advertising and trying to fill the stadium. As a first time head coach it is only natural he would have to grow into the role. Hopefully he improves in this area or wins so much much that no one cares.

          Frankly I didn’t get up in arms over Butch’s Butchisms so I am not going to worry too much over Pruitt’s shortcomings conveying his message with the media. Just give us a football team we can be proud of CJP, do it the right way. I don’t care about the rest.

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