Tennessee fans dreamed of Jon Gruden, hated Greg Schiano and settled on being pretty darn happy with the decision to hire Jeremy Pruitt as the replacement for Butch Jones.
And as Tennessee alum Paul Finebaum sees it, Vols fans have new athletics director Phillip Fulmer to thank for that change in mindset.
After a coaching search that included a fan revolt, a national-wide tour of rejection from some of college football’s biggest names and ultimately the replacement of an athletic director, Fulmer had a way of making things feel alright.
During a Monday morning interview with WJOX’s Opening Drive in Birmingham, Ala., Finebaum was asked to give his opinion on the Vols coming into enemy territory to snag one of the Crimson Tide’s top assistant coaches.
“I liked the hire,” Finebaum said of the decision to bring on Pruitt at Tennessee. “And I like that Fulmer was able, in a matter of days, to lower the expectations and quit chasing coaches all over the country and to quit embarrassing the university.”
Those words about lowering expectations may bite some Vols fans, but Finebaum isn’t wrong. Fulmer may have delivered the reality check many Vols fans needed, and then proceeded to hire a qualified coach who clearly wanted the job.
But will Pruitt, who has never been a college head coach, be able to survive outside of the comfort of his role as a defensive coordinator in Year 1? Finebaum tried to explain his position on that to former Alabama QB Jay Barker.
“Jay, we’ve both watched first-year coaches before,” Finebaum said. “Sometimes the work very successfully and sometimes they fail miserably. [Former Alabama defensive coordinator] Kirby Smart had a rough first year because he didn’t understand and know the lay of the land, so that’s always going to be held against you. To me, the Fulmer component is not that big of a deal. I don’t think any Alabama fan is overly concerned about what Phillip Fulmer is doing behind the curtain in Knoxville.”
Fulmer recently stated that his goal was to make Alabama ‘sweat again’ in that rivalry.
And what about allowing Pruitt to coach the Crimson Tide defense during the College Football Playoff? Smart did the same while transitioning to Georgia back in 2015. He produced an 8-5 record during his first season in Athens and qualified for the College Football Playoff in Year 2, but Mark Richt didn’t leave behind quite the mess that Jones did in Tennessee.
“It is a distraction. You know it and I know it,” Finebaum said of Pruitt coaching in the College Football Playoff. “Kirby Smart got half of it right two years ago and the other half he didn’t. The longer you shuttle back-and-forth, meaning winning the semifinal game, the more tension arises on the recruiting trail and the more you are distracted. I give Jeremy credit for wanting to do it. Ultimately Alabama is probably a little better off with him being there, but if he thinks by the time he leaves–whether it be on Jan. 1 or Jan. 9– that he’s going to have good feelings from the staff he’s working with now and working against on recruiting, he’s in for a shock.”
You can listen to the entire interview with Finebaum here: