Category Archives: Because Nothing Sucks Like A Big Orange

As the Urnge turns…

Vol Nation was happy about Robert Gillespie, running backs coach, being the one holdover on Jeremy Pruitt’s staff.

Gillespie has served in that position since coming to Tennessee in 2013. While fans are likely wanting to distance themselves from all things Butch Jones in a hurry, Gillespie is the one holdover that should excite fans.

After all, the group of RBs that has cycled through Knoxville each of the past two seasons has been one of the few bright spots in a disappointing stretch. Alvin Kamara, John Kelly, and Ty Chandler have produced some impressive performances despite the recent struggles. With that in mind, keeping Gillespie in Knoxville looks to be a smart move.

So, would that make this dumb?

Pruitt’s gonna Pruitt, y’all.

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UPDATE:  Man, this is so last week.

New Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt gave no indication any staff changes were imminent last Wednesday at the Vols’ recruiting presentation at the Tennessee Theatre.

During the Q & A portion of the presentation, a fan asked Pruitt why he had elected to retain Gillespie.

“Recruiting against Tennessee, there’s guys that when you go into a house, or you followed them into a house, you know what they have done in respect to recruiting,” Pruitt said. “ You look at the way his players have played, very well-respected in the profession, and we’re excited that he’s here.”

Gillespie also spoke at the Tennessee Theatre last week, sharing his excitement about being a part of the Vols’ new staff.

“I’ll tell you this, some people get an opportunity to coach at the University of Tennessee one time, I’m fortunate this is my second time to be a coach at Tennessee and I’m excited,” Gillespie said. “As you look at the (coaches seated) behind me, obviously coach has done a really good job putting the staff together.

“Having guys like this behind me in the office every day makes you want to compete to be the best coach you can be, because we have really good football players, and I believe right now we have the guys that can get the best out of the guys we have on this campus.”

The dream is over.

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Playing the lowered expectations game in Knoxville

Give Jeremy Pruitt credit for being proactive about tamping down the excitement for the immediate term.  Pruitt said he expects between 75 and 77 scholarship players on the roster this fall.  That’s probably death for a run at a division title.

On the plus side, Vol fans, he does has experience dealing with a shortfall in roster numbers.

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The new recruiting sheriff’s in town, part two

I’m certainly no recruiting guru, just a blogger who tries to makes sense of bigger picture stuff and trends on some occasions.  That being said, it pleases me when I find some validation out there from folks who do follow recruiting more thoroughly than I do.

For me, the most important take away from the 2018 recruiting classes in the short term is that Georgia has seriously impacted the balance of power in the SEC East.  As Alex Kirshner noted, this is actually a continuation of a trend that began with Smart’s arrival…

This time a year ago, Georgia was emerging as the far-and-away best recruiter in the lesser of the SEC’s two divisions. The Dawgs had the country’s No. 6 class in 2016, an incredible finish for a team that had just changed coaches (from Mark Richt to Kirby Smart) two months before National Signing Day. In 2017, they jumped up to No. 3, signing almost as many blue-chip recruits as the rest of the East combined.

… and has only accelerated with each succeeding class.

Then the 2018 recruiting cycle happened.

Georgia finished Signing Day with the second-highest-rated class in the history of recruiting rankings.

The Dawgs were No. 2 behind Ohio State heading into the day, but they went ahead and nabbed five-star cornerback Tyson Campbell and four-star receiver Tommy Bush. They flipped the country’s No. 2 outside linebacker, Quay Walker, from Alabama (via an amusing ceremonial fake-out) and another four-star backer, Otis Reese, from Michigan.

It’s the first time in eight years a non-Alabama team has taken the country’s No. 1 perch.

Kirby didn’t have much competition in the SEC on the recruiting front before the coaching changes at Florida and Tennessee and while those two schools had decent transitional classes with Mullen and Pruitt, neither had as good a showing as Smart’s first class.  (Granted, some of that disparity came as a result of Richt leaving a much firmer foundation for Smart to build on than what either Mullen or Pruitt had to start with, but, still.)

Bud Elliott describes the gap.

2. Imagine being a fan of Florida or Tennessee right now.

New coaching hires are supposed to come with a large dose of optimism.

Florida signed the No. 14 class, with 12 four-star players, Tennessee signed the No. 20 class, with eight four-stars.

And I won’t say that the honeymoon period is over in Gainesville or Knoxville, but a heavy dose of patience is going to be needed because the talent gap between Georgia and its two biggest division rivals is as big as it has been in 40 years.

  • Georgia has signed more four- and five-star recruits in the last two years (42) than Florida and Tennessee combined (36).
  • Georgia has signed more four- and five-star recruits in the last two classes (42) than Florida (37) or Tennessee (39) on their own has in the last four years.
  • Georgia’s roster is several years of recruiting ahead of the Gators and Vols.

The vast majority of elite players signed in the new Early Signing Period. That means that teams that made coaching changes got hosed. And it came at the perfect time for Georgia.

Florida’s class will be better in 2019, as will Tennessee’s thanks to not having to adjust to a coaching change. But Florida needs to hit home runs in 2019 and 2020 to close the gap with Georgia, and Tennessee is probably an additional year behind.

Dan Mullen and Jeremy Pruitt have a lot of work to do.

Bud’s right; Kirby Smart has been the recipient of some very fortuitous timing.  It’s to his credit, though, that he was fully prepared to take advantage.  Luck is the residue of design, and all that.

It’s worth noting that Smart’s also screwed with the perception of recruiting success in the division.  As Elliott put it, describing Mullen’s first class (which is actually pretty good, considering), “It feels weird talking about a top-15 class as something other than a success, but Georgia has simply raised the bar.”

Pruitt’s already gone on record immediately after this year’s signing day to proclaim that Tennessee’s next signing class will be very highly ranked (lucky for him, there’s a bumper crop of in state high school talent in the 2019 class).  To some extent, raised expectations kind of forced his hand there.  Smart’s made that a tougher row to hoe.  What kind of reaction should we expect from the Vol and Gator fan bases if their teams don’t sign top five classes nest year?  Or from Phil Fulmer?

Now, again, all I’m looking at here is the near horizon.  Things can and do change over the longer haul.  Pruitt does have a reputation as a great recruiter, but is handicapped in most years by a relatively slimmer in state talent base to draw from than Smart does.  Dan Mullen remembers what it was like in the day when it was Florida raking in the monster recruiting classes year after year.  It’s not unreasonable to expect a Gator bounce back.

But even that won’t be overnight.  Over the next two or three seasons, it’s hard to see how, barring epic misfortune, Georgia won’t enjoy a sizable talent advantage over its SEC East neighbors.  And if there’s one thing the Process has taught us, it’s that depth rules in this conference.

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If you pay it, they will come.

Evidently, Phil Fulmer’s of a mind that Tennessee can buy its way back to championship level.

Tennessee’s salary pool for assistant coaches in 2017 ranked 10th in the country and sixth in the Southeastern Conference. The $1 million bump for the 2018 staff would vault Tennessee to fourth in the nation and third in the SEC when compared to last year’s numbers, which USA Today compiled in a database. USA Today has not released a database for 2018 salaries.

The highest-paid assistant under Pruitt will be offensive coordinator Tyson Helton, who is set to make $1.2 million, according to his contract. The contracts were obtained by the Times Free Press through an open records request.

Including Pruitt’s $3.81 million salary, the annual cost for Tennessee’s new staff will be $10.1 million. That figure also includes the $625,000 salary of strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald. In all of college football, only Iowa’s Chris Doyle made more as a strength coach last year, according to USA Today.

The salaries of the Tennessee football staff totaled $9.1 million in 2017.

At a time when Tennessee owes Jones a $2.5 million annual buyout, the high salary pool for the new staff indicates Fulmer’s desire to see the Vols return to the glory they enjoyed during his tenure as coach in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Make sure you check out the bump Kevin Sherrer got to swap red and black for orange.

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Jeremy Pruitt and “Tuscaloosa Pixie Dust”

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.

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“I hope I can be that kind of help to Jeremy.”

I wonder how many times we’re going to hear a variation on this theme over the next three seasons.

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Filed under Because Nothing Sucks Like A Big Orange, The Glass is Half Fulmer

“I was a knot on the log there.”

The more I read about Phil Fulmer’s level of involvement in the UT football program, the weirder it seems.

Fulmer took the unusual-for-an-athletic-director step of getting NCAA-certified to recruit on the road during Pruitt’s two-jobs-in-two-cities period, and he even went on the road with Pruitt a couple of times. And he claimed to love every bit of what he saw.

“I was a knot on the log there,” Fulmer said. “He was the focal point. He handled the room. When he sat in the home, he was great with the mom and dad and the kid.”

So Pruitt in essence was selling himself on the recruiting trail to Mama and his boss.  I’m sure that wasn’t the slightest bit awkward.  Nor was this:

Fulmer knew about Pruitt’s reputation as an elite recruiter. He got excited when watching Pruitt get up “on the edge of his chair” with a “nervous twitch in his leg” when the two talked recruiting during the interview process.

Jeez, guys.  Get a room, would ‘ya?

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