Pruitt spanks absent fans

Marvin WestFeature, westwords

We can help you, Coach, if you’ll just let us know when the fuse is short.

If we had guessed how strongly you felt, we could have saved you from yourself on Saturday. Our advice would have been to wait until you accomplish something before picking a fuss with Tennessee football fans.

They are terrific people, loyal to a fault, forgiving of almost anything, patient for years in a digital era timed in nanoseconds.

Jeremy Pruitt, our new coach, was frustrated with how some Volunteers performed in the Orange and White Game and let it spill over onto the 60,000 or so who did not occupy empty seats at Neyland Stadium.

Beautiful day. No admission charge. Free parking. Biggest event in town, even bigger than the downtown sidewalk sideshow.

Some of my dependable barometers accepted the lightweight criticism as honest. We should have gone to the game. Some offered an alibi. After all we have been through, 37,816 was a very good crowd (UT estimate of 65-plus was wishful thinking).

One participant on the VolNation forum responded with a hot zinger. He said if Tennessee had hired Jon Gruden as coach, he would have paid for the privilege of attending the spring game. If Tennessee had chosen Mike Leach, he would have driven in for a freebie.

“To watch Pruitt, they would’ve had to pay me.”

Far more fans are pleased to have a tough coach tell it like he thinks it is. Fans will be honest, too. Our record says if he recruits better players, we’ll cheer. Win a few games and he will be appreciated in proportion to the numbers. Win some more and we’ll name a street for him.

Coach Pruitt did almost nothing to “sell” the Orange and White Game. He did not permit media to watch spring practice. That created hollow shell reports with little or nothing to excite fans. The coach was careful not to mention names of players who were making progress. That led to more stories with nothing in them.

The coach didn’t say anything to generate a buzz. His best news move was switching a wide receiver to cornerback. Goodness knows, he needed one but said he didn’t, that the Vols have “plenty of talent” at that position.

The coach eliminated the pre-game autograph session, a reason for parents to bring children and a reason some children grow up to be Tennessee fans and buy orange caps and shirts and end-zone checkered overalls.

If you are keeping a score book, what the coach did or didn’t do and why so many fans missed the game should be logged on the page titled Not Very Important.

Some things that happened on the sacred green of Shields-Watkins Field matter more. In the first-team offense against the first-team defense, Jarrett Guarantano exceeded expectations and is now the quarterback until further notice. He appeared bigger, stronger, more confident and more accurate than last November.

That there was no fear factor could have been relevant. Nobody was knocking him down and stepping on him.

The offensive line showed promise if not punch. That plus came at the expense of the defensive line which did not show as much.

Tight end Eli Wolf caught five passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. We won’t know for sure if he can block defensive tackles until the West Virginia game. Josh Palmer caught three passes for 77 yards. He looked good or maybe the secondary wasn’t very sharp.

Theo Jackson intercepted a Will McBride pass, returned it 49 yards and set up a touchdown. Kyle Phillips was honored as the most improved defender of the spring. Quarte Sapp, Nigel Warrior and Kivon Bennett also caught my eye on defense.

The coach has keener eyes. He was not happy with some things he saw. He said he still has to “figure out where we’re at with some of these guys.”

Jeremy also said: “The good thing is, in a couple of weeks, we’ll have a bunch of guys that aren’t on the injury report anymore. We’ll have 14 new guys here, and maybe more. Some of these guys that don’t want to do it right, don’t want to do it right all the time, they’ll just be watching.”

Alas and alas, I suppose that means some will go away. Depth will become a greater problem. Coach may not like that.

Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is

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