Football question: Do opposites attract?

Marvin Westwestwords

Scientists debate whether opposites attract. In trying to explain Alabama man Jeremy Pruitt’s choice of Joe Osovet for his UT football staff, I say maybe yes, maybe no, depends on how deep “opposite” goes.

Osovet, 44, a New Yorker through and through with an accent to prove it, goes to work today as an offensive analyst for the Volunteers. In his circle of friends and at Nike coaching clinics, Joe is considered a very creative thinker, an offensive innovator and maybe a genius.

He did remarkable things with pass-run options from a spread formation on behalf of ASA College of downtown Brooklyn.

Last season, his Avengers posted a 9-1 record. They defeated host Mesa in the Valley of the Sun Bowl.

Alas and alas, almost nobody noticed. The team had talent but not crowds. For some games, recruiters outnumbered fans. OK, recruiters got in free.

It appears Joe’s jump from head coach at a nationally ranked junior college to an obscure job at Tennessee was overlooked by the New York media. No headline in the Times, even though Joe is markedly different. ASA is also different.

It walloped Wagner’s junior varsity, 70-0. Hudson Valley went down, 67-14. Erie lost, 50-6. Hocking was thrashed, 76-6. Those and most other games were on the road. ASA has no football facilities.

The team practices on the parade grounds at Prospect Park, a short bus ride from the campus – which looks like an office building on Lawrence Street, across from a Greek diner, a pizza place, a fried chicken spot and three Chinese restaurants side by side by side.

The Avengers played one game in Brooklyn, at Lincoln High School.

Before he topped out at ASA, Joe came up through the ranks at Nassau Community College on Long Island, from player to assistant coach to the top job. As head coach, he was 20-4. He was national junior college coach of the year. He was recognizable. He played there 24 years before.

Pruitt was defensive coordinator at Georgia when he met Osovet in 2014. Focal point was a Nassau cornerback with SEC ability. After that, they just talked football. As different as they appeared, they discovered they are very much alike. Similar hairstyles. No silver spoons.

Pruitt also worked his way up. He was born in Rainsville. His lived in Pisgah, Plainview, Fort Payne and Albertville. His shortcut to the top of the world included playing at Middle Tennessee State and coaching at three Alabama high schools and the University of West Alabama – where he earned his degree. Most couldn’t find it on a map.

A few weeks ago, when Pruitt was brand new as Tennessee’s head coach and still working in Tuscaloosa, he invited Osovet to interview for the wide receiver coaching vacancy at UT. Pruitt wasn’t available but offensive coordinator Tyson Helton, line coach Will Friend and athletic director Phillip Fulmer met with Joe in Knoxville.

He didn’t get the job, but he got great feedback.

“They said I did an amazing job,” Osovet says. “Coach Pruitt said, ‘We’re not going to hire you but I can promise you this, we’re going to coach together one day. The staff had nothing but good things to say about you.’”

“Together” happened sooner than expected.

The gap between where Joe Osovet is today and where he wants to be is considerable. He doesn’t even know what his duties will be at Tennessee. He says it doesn’t matter, that he has no ego problems, that he will do anything he can to help the Volunteers win.

He thinks Pruitt has unlocked the career doorway. All Joe has to do is work his way through.

Joe has seen Neyland Stadium. He has heard about crowds in excess of a hundred thousand. He understands potential. He can imagine what is out there.

Joe also knows where he came from, Babylon, New York. He didn’t even have Jeremy’s advantage of a father being a high school coach. His dad sold carpets. Joe does have a supportive wife, Sandy, and two sweet children, Brooke and Austin, but no collection of national championship rings.

Even in the doldrums, Tennessee is a million miles from ASA. Joe has read about big orange tradition. He knows there is a crowd of old Vols in the college football hall of fame.

Tradition is a foreign language at ASA. It was founded in 1985 with one professor and 12 students. The school was known as Advanced Software Analysis. It focused on computer programming. Governments kept providing scholarships. ASA added other fields of study. It was eventually accredited. Athletics arrived in 2009.

Football people at ASA have two goals – get their grades and move up.

Joe Osovet, known for charisma, energy and devotion, made A-plus as coach. In his mind, thanks to Jeremy Pruitt, he has moved up.

Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is [email protected]

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