By Jimmy Hyams
So Jeremy Pruitt thinks that, sometimes, offensive coordinators are overrated.
I guess he’s right, if you have an average offensive coordinator. Average play callers are a dime a dozen.
But effective offensive coordinators are not.
I’ll give you three.
In 2005, Tennessee had a losing season and much maligned offensive coordinator Randy Sanders resigned with a month left in the campaign. He actually remained the play caller, then left for Kentucky.
Phillip Fulmer then hired his old friend and colleague, David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe helped the Vols go from 5-6 to nine wins then 10 wins and an East Division title. The Vols led eventual national champion LSU in the fourth quarter of the SEC championship game before falling in a tight contest.
Cutcliffe not only was a terrific play caller, but he was extraordinary at developing quarterbacks. Not only did he tutor Peyton and Eli Manning, he also helped Heath Shuler and Andy Kelly evolve. He was effective with a passer like Peyton and a runner like Tee Martin.
And in 2006-07, quarterback Erik Ainge went from a college wreck to making a pro check as he was drafted in the NFL.
In 2008, Cutcliffe left Tennessee to become head coach at Duke.
That same season, without Cutcliffe, UT had another losing season and Fulmer was fired.
Was Cutcliffe an overrated offensive coordinator?
In 1981, my first year as a beat writer covering LSU football, the Tigers were a mess, coming off a 3-7-1 season under coach Jerry Stovall.
LSU had a talented but beaten up quarterback in Alan Risher.
Stovall made perhaps the best move of his coaching career – he hired Mack Brown as his offensive coordinator. Brown not only revived the career of Risher, but LSU went 8-2-1, scored impressive victories over Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss and Florida State and earned a berth in the Orange Bowl.
In a move Pruitt should be familiar with, Alabama hired Lane Kiffin off the heap pile after he was unceremoniously fired on the airplane tarmac by Southern Cal.
In Kiffin’s first year, he took a journeyman athlete, Blake Sims, and converted him into a productive quarterback who helped Alabama reach the initial College Football Playoffs.
A year later, Kiffin took fifth-year senior Jake Coker, who had done nothing during his college career, and turned him into a productive quarterback who helped Alabama win the national championship.
In Kiffin’s third year at Alabama, he took an athletic true freshman in Jalen Hurts, won the SEC and reached the national title game with a better-runner-than-passer who was named the SEC offensive player of the year.
After Kiffin left Alabama in 2017, Hurts wasn’t the same quarterback and was benched at halftime in the national title game against Georgia.
So, yes, “sometimes’’ offensive coordinators can be overrated.
But not the good ones.
Not the Cutcliffes or Browns or Kiffins.
I understand what Pruitt is saying. To be explosive on offense, you need dynamic players.
But to get production out of average players, you need a sharp offensive coordinator who can maximize a quarterback’s abilities and outwit a defensive coordinator.
That’s why Pruitt’s hire of an offensive coordinator at this point is so critical – not just to the success of the 2019 team but to Pruitt’s success as Tennessee’s coach.
And at the end of the 2019 season, the Vol Nation is hoping that offensive coordinator will be considered “underrated.’’