Families fight. Tempers flare. Insults — and sometimes punches — get thrown.
That’s the way it is in the South, and, though I haven’t been out of this region too much in my life, I assume that’s the way it is everywhere else, too. If you haven’t seen a conversation get a little heated at a family reunion, well, I’m not sure you’re from ’round these parts.
Most of the folks running programs in the SEC are, indeed, from ’round these parts.
Many of them have coached together, played against each other, recruited the same players and cut teeth on the same coaches.
Heck, the Nick Saban tree has reached its gnarled roots all over the conference. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt are all disciples of college football’s greatest coach. Will Muschamp played at Georgia, coordinated at Auburn, led a program at Florida. Heck, even “outsiders” like that Yankee Dan Mullen down in Gainesville has spent enough time in the league now that he’s common-law.
Some of these good ol’ boys like each other, take weekends at the lake together, shoot the breeze about a little ball together. Some of them don’t care much for one another.
That’s how good ol’ boys are.
So, when former Georgia players Aaron Murray and David Pollack puckered their bottom lips out and went poor-mouthing Pruitt on national platforms on Wednesday, nobody should have been surprised.
Said Murray to a radio station at the always-entertaining circus of SEC Media Days in Atlanta:
“I don’t know if his personality is fit to be a head coach. As a head coach, there’s so many things that go into it. It’s not just going out there and coaching. You have to deal with front office. You’ve got to go talk with the president. You have to deal with boosters. You have to deal with the offense. The defense. It’s not just going in there and scheming it up. … I don’t think he’s the right guy to kind of be the CEO of a corporation. He’s really good managing just a defense and being a defensive coordinator. He needs to prove to me that he can handle the whole ship. We’ll see what happens this year. I don’t think it helps that he doesn’t have a lot of talent at Tennessee.”
Pollack saw a place to pile on, and did so. The former UGA defensive end who took his share of beatings at the hands of the Vols has never had too much good to say about the program, anyway. He said according to Saturday Down South’s Michael Wayne Bratton:
“To address Aaron’s (Murray) comment — because I think it needs to be addressed a little bit — the stories that I have heard and some of y’all have heard that came out of Athens – that are true, (from) coaches that were on the staff, some of the things Jeremy Pruitt did to Mark Richt, some coaches would tell you are the most disrespectful, most crazy things they heard.
“So, I’ll be curious to watch Jeremy Pruitt as he evolves with this relationship with Phillip Fulmer because Jeremy Pruitt did a good job when he was with Nick Saban — because he knew where he stood. He did a good job with Jimbo Fisher — they let you know where you stand. The hierarchy was very clear. How does he evolve as a head coach?
“He put on a good show (at the main podium at SEC Media Days), he definitely showed you what he has. I want to see if he continues to treat people in the correct manner, if he respects authority, because to be honest, the stories we’ve heard — we’ve all heard the same stories, it was pretty bad. It was disrespectful, so that’s what I’m interested to see.”
In a separate interview, legendary high school coach and former Pruitt boss Rush Propst said Georgia was a little too “country club” before Pruitt got there. Saban himself addressed the buzz during his portion of Media Days.
Nick Saban’s response when asked about Jeremy Pruitt following comments from Aaron Murray & David Pollack: “He was always very respectful… I have never seen that style. It’s really surprising to me to hear people say that, because I’ve never seen it.”
Full quote from Saban: pic.twitter.com/Y3uXAukzRI
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) July 18, 2018
That Pruitt punched back only made things better. I’d have probably told him to take off his skinny jeans and put on some blue jeans, but that’s just me. Pruitt was a little more diplomatic but still got his point across.
“I look at it like this: 15 years ago, I was a kindergarten teacher, and today I’m the head coach at Tennessee,” Pruitt said. “So you probably don’t make that ascension unless you know how to treat people.”
You sick of reading quotes?
Oh, me neither.
This is awesome.
All that’s really missing is a soft pack of Winstons, a case of Bud Diesel and maybe a stained wife-beater or two. This is as close as we’ve gotten to “how-big-a-boy-are-ya” in this league in a long time. When a bunch of Southern boys get together and get in a baccer-spittin’ contest, fur may fly.
Sometimes, as we saw Wednesday, some of that Sand Mountain may come out when he gets a little sand in his craw. I was halfway waiting for a “By gawd” to be uttered.
Let’s all hope this is today’s SEC.
For us Tennessee fans, it may be a little while before we can re-enter the fracas on the football field, but Pruitt is already proving he can go into living rooms and battle the titans on the trail. He isn’t a stranger to this league or putting on his big-boy britches in hairy situations. He’s paid his dues as an assistant on the best teams in this era and in this country in the past decade, and this is now his time to run his program his way.
Mark Richt got to run his Georgia program his way, and though he was very successful during his tenure in Athens, his teams lacked toughness and he never really did as much with all that talent as he probably should have. The fans said it. The media said it. Some of Richt’s former players have even said it.
It took two years for favorite son Kirby Smart to come in and take the Dawgs to the cusp of the national championship last year.
Did he do something Richt couldn’t do or did he just inherit the talent that Richt was eventually going to do it with? We won’t ever know the answer to that. But [if the reports and the comments are true] Pruitt obviously didn’t care for the way things were going down there during his short stint with UGA.
Long-time SEC reporter Tony Barnhart said in the book Fulmer Hires Pruitt that Pruitt was outspoken about UGA’s need for a better indoor practice facility. Maybe that was one of the many things that irked the assistant; Richt didn’t run the type of program and do all the things Pruitt thought he needed to do to be successful.
When that’s the case, and things are going downhill [remember, Richt was fired following that season] things get a little haywire, especially when you’ve got alpha coaches who like to speak their minds.
“For the longest time when Mark Richt was there, there was this ongoing debate as to whether or not Georgia needed an indoor practice facility,” Barnhart said. “They had a small version and was not big. Some were saying Georgia needs one because Tennessee has one, Alabama has one, Auburn has one; some were saying well no they don’t need one. Mark Richt mentioned it, but he never pushed the issue and then one day someone came to Jeremy and asked him about it and he said Georgia is at a competitive disadvantage in not having an indoor practice facility at a place like Georgia. So that also impressed me and these things made me believe that someday he was going to be a head coach.”
Now he is, and he’s entering a situation at Tennessee that needs discipline, needs toughness, needs bluntness, needs truth. For years, we were lied to by a thin-skinned politician of a coach in Butch Jones, a man Paul Finebaum referred to on Wednesday as a “pathetic carny barker.”
Pruitt has been a breath of fresh air and the complete opposite.
Will he win football games? We can’t know that, and you absolutely cannot be “sold” on him until he does because if there’s anything Tennessee fans should know by now, it’s how to get sucked into faux hope and get burned.
But Vols fans love somebody who’ll stand up for their team and their program. Fulmer did it back in the day, and even though the Ol’ Ball Coach Steve Spurrier and his one-liners ran rivets down big orange chalkboards, the Battle Captain was good for a quip every now and then. Before him, Johnny Majors authored some of the greatest coaches shows and player comments in the history of the league. After Fulmer, of course, was Lane Kiffin and all the immature fun that brought.
Pruitt isn’t going to just sit back and water bamboo or stack bricks. As we saw on Wednesday, he’ll hurl those bricks back in the direction where they came. It was a heck of a good time, wasn’t it; like a post-wreck tongue-lashing at Talladega. And two of the three folks involved were gussied-up Georgia pretty boys with $100 haircuts.
Can you imagine what it’s gonna be like when Pruitt gets “his” players in there and starts going toe-to-toe with Smart [no love lost with that pair] or former bosses Saban and Fisher? This has the potential to be a whole lot of fun.
Whoo-wee! Rubbin’, they say, is racin’.
If this is today’s SEC, buckle up boys!