Football coaches, even before they master all the Xs and Os, learn to talk extensively without saying too much. Politicians excel at this.
Jeremy Pruitt gets paid in part for talking but doesn’t talk extensively unless absolutely obligated. You may have noticed he is not an orator. He is not a comfortable thespian. He always seems guarded. Now and then, he goes public with a few words of wisdom.
Jeremy killed 22 national television minutes at his SEC media day without giving up the combination to the locked Tennessee information vault. He admitted he doesn’t exactly enjoy the annual assignment of talking to the football world. I doubt that he is ever overjoyed in chatting with reporters and, certainly not a big room full.
He did tell us he has a really good staff of assistants — but didn’t say how much they cost. He praised the academic people at the university and said 53 players had 3.0 or better grade point averages in spring semester. That is a great subject if you don’t have great players to talk about.
He did provide a few tidbits about the roster. He said there are now 15 offensive linemen over 300 pounds. He spoke warmly of the three Vols who accompanied him for show and tell.
He said Jarrett Guarantano earned the exposure by being a very good leader the last six months.
He believes Darrell Taylor didn’t go early to the NFL because he has some unfinished business.
He said Daniel Bituli told him he speaks three languages. The coach told the linebacker all he needs to speak is football.
Pruitt devoted a minute or so to a recruiting pitch. There is a shortage at linebacker and the Vols have four senior wide receivers. This means Tennessee would be a good place for four and five-stars.
Pruitt was more forthcoming in a side session with so-called local media. His maturity as a head coach showed. He accepted responsibility for the 5-7 disappointment that was last season. The losses were not a shock. How the Vols looked was a letdown.
The coach said the team probably dropped a couple of games because of mental errors. He said two might be blamed on a lack of fight. Pruitt fretted about not building a better relationship with his players.
He said he had asked himself, “Whose fault is that?”
His answer was, “Obviously, it was my fault.”
Jeremy Pruitt said he allowed himself to be too busy trying to fix everything at once. He was not close enough to what matters most, his players. Pruitt says he has gone back to what he used to be, a players’ coach. He has never had a problem building relationships with recruits. His renewed focus is on what he has.
Veteran Vols have noticed. The line of communications is clearer. There is actually a comfort zone.
Pruitt acknowledges that his squad has worked to get better. We (he and I) now see the possibility that he underestimated some abilities. Maybe some people he thought couldn’t play can.
“I can see guys kind of growing and developing and really having an opportunity to turn themselves into fine football players. I’m excited about this year.”
The coach has a sharper outlook on what comes next, August. He has a better grasp of strengths and weaknesses. He is convinced players now understand his expectations.
Some intelligent carryover from spring drills undoubtedly exists. Several bodies really are bigger and stronger. There are new players. There will be more competition for playing time. There is motivation.
It is good that the coach looked in the mirror. It is good that the Tennessee team has not conveniently forgotten damage inflicted by Missouri and Vanderbilt. It is good that all concerned see the burning need for improvement.
There is a hint of optimism I had not previously recognized. Could be better days are not as far away as I had thought.
Incidentally, one Pruitt comment has been framed and is already on my office wall: “We’re heading in the right direction and we’re headed there in a hurry.”
I like that.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org