A couple of hot takes on the incredible job Phil Fulmer did luring Jeremy Pruitt to Tennessee:
- Pete Thamel: “In the end, Tennessee ended up with an inferior coach, an overmatched athletic director and setting a new standard for a disastrous coaching search. The hires that former athletic director John Currie was on the cusp of making – Greg Schiano and Mike Leach – are exponentially more accomplished and better qualified for the Tennessee job. But Phil Fulmer’s power play ended up with him in control as athletic director and Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as coach. Pruitt is just inexperienced enough that Fulmer will be able to keep sticking his nose in the program, which is what he’s wanted since he was run out of the job nearly a decade ago. (The classic clueless Fulmer moment was treating the press conference to dismiss Currie like he’d just been hired as coach again, as his tone – including introducing his family in attendance – showed a stunning lack of self-awareness.) Opposing SEC athletic directors, by the way, are giddy to have Fulmer in charge, as his administrative acumen presents little threat to the rest of the league. Expect Tennessee’s glory to remain faded.”
- Dan Wolken: “Coaching searches are far more art than science, and there are always unique dynamics at each individual school that can complicate matters. But the Tennessee search will be remembered in this industry for years, and not in a good way. Whether Tennessee fans agreed or disagreed with the choice of Greg Schiano after Dan Mullen chose Florida, the idea that a social media fan uprising could essentially spook the school into reneging on a signed agreement is still mind-blowing. Former athletics director John Currie did his due diligence on the search. He knew who was available and who wouldn’t take the job. Right or wrong, he made the determination that Schiano was the best coach he could reasonably hire. And as imperfect as it might have been in the eyes of some fans, he was prepared to make a tough decision and sink or swim with the results on the field. That’s the way it’s supposed to work when you hire people to leadership positions and let them lead.
At Tennessee, though, the response was different. And for whatever reason, the people who were supposed to have Currie’s back instead decided to sweep him aside and let former coach Phillip Fulmer run the athletics department and complete the coaching search. Maybe the end result may work out for Tennessee — we’ll see — but the process to get to Pruitt was messy. Within college athletics circles, the school’s brand was far more damaged over the last two weeks than Currie’s. He’ll certainly resurface somewhere soon. Whether this fiasco helps make Tennessee a contender again is far more uncertain.”
Sure, Pruitt may work out. He’s got an impressive work ethic and great recruiting skills on his side. Then again, Booch’s problems didn’t stem from recruiting.
Tennessee’s decline in football is more than about coaching, though. The athletic department leadership has been notably substandard going back to the Mike Hamilton regime. The idea that Phil Fulmer, who’s never been an administrator before, is the guy with the right skills to launch a renaissance, feels like nothing more at this juncture than wishful thinking from a fan base that’s just thrilled to have a real Vol calling the shots.
Even worse, Fulmer’s only got a two-year deal. If things don’t take off for Tennessee football in that time frame, he’ll sail off into the sunset washing his hands of the affair, serene in the claim that he did what he believed was best for the program. Meanwhile, it’ll be up to the next poor sap to deal with a fan base that fervently believes a return to greatness is easier than it is in real life. For the rest of us, all that’s standing between years of mockery and UT football is Jeremy Pruitt. And even that may be fleeting if Pruitt sees his time in Knoxville as a stepping stone to a program with more stability at the top. Enjoy your time there, coach.