I’m going to say it again: Jeremy Pruitt’s biggest problem going forward at Tennessee won’t be the Nick Saban comparisons. It’ll be the Kirby Smart comparisons.
Pruitt comes across as a man who spends zero energy attempting to be something he’s not. He’s a good, old-fashioned football coach, and his demeanor feels like manna from heaven following a five-year period spent covering a man who had the audacity to tell me a cow pie was chocolate ice cream and the naivety to think I would eat it.
In that light, Pruitt’s performance Wednesday was enjoyable to experience. He went to bat for the players on his current roster and the players he’d just signed, but he didn’t deny that his staff went for the fences in this class and came up short in a recruiting cycle that was stacked against him and his staff for many legitimate reasons. That’s a fine line to walk, but I believe Pruitt walked it well.
After speaking to the press Wednesday afternoon, Pruitt and his staff went to the Tennessee Theater in downtown Knoxville and spoke perhaps even more candidly to a loud and proud crowd that seemed equally happy to hear a more honest voice from a Vols football coach.
Pruitt said he didn’t care about recruiting rankings, but then he stuck his neck out and boldly declared that he and his staff would produce different results with a full year on the recruiting trail. He said without hesitation that Tennessee would have a class at the “very top” of the national rankings next season, and he said it with so much conviction that I believe he really believed it.
It’s going to be a tough haul. Richt left the Georgia program in better shape for Smart than Booch did for Pruitt. Georgia, as we’ve just seen, is much more fertile recruiting grounds than Tennessee will ever be, and Smart has also shown that he’s going to devote all his effort into making sure the in state program is the first choice for those recruits he wants for his program. Kirby’s transitional class was much better than the 2018 Tennessee class appears to be, at least on paper. And “very top” has a specific meaning to me, and, more importantly, to the Urnge hordes. Pruitt’s got his work cut out for him.
For Pruitt to succeed at the level Vol fans want, it won’t be enough for him to be as good as Smart. He’s going to have to be better. If he’s not, he’s going to hear about it.