(This is the first in a four-part series on what SEC coaches had to say about other SEC programs. First: Tennessee)
By Jimmy Hyams
Tennessee hasn’t won an SEC football championship since 1998 — the longest drought in school history.
The Vols didn’t have a player selected in the most recent NFL draft for the third time in five years.
UT has won two SEC games in two years, won two or fewer SEC games in a season five of the last eight, and hasn’t secured a 10-win season in 11 years.
Perhaps that’s why one SEC coach told me Jeremy Pruitt faces a major rebuilding job.
“It’s going to take five years to get it done,’’ one coach told me. “I think Pruitt will get it done because he’s a good enough coach and recruiter to get it done. But it will take that long.’’
“There’s other people in the league already getting it done,’’ the coach said. “And they have no margin for error because they play Alabama, Georgia and Florida every year.
“Vanderbilt’s beat them three years in a row. That tells you how far Tennessee has to go to get back to where they were.’’
That’s not what the Vol Nation wants to hear. But it’s true that Tennessee has a long way to go.
Don’t agree? Check the media All-SEC preseason team, which didn’t have one player on the first three teams that wasn’t a special teams performer.
That’s a clear lack of personnel.
But will it take Pruitt five years?
Will he get five years?
That depends. If he’s showing progress and recruiting well, probably.
If he doesn’t post a winning record in any of his first three seasons, unlikely.
After all, Butch Jones, reviled as an awful coach by many a UT fan, won nine games in his third season at Rocky Top.
One coach had a degree of optimism.
“I think Jeremy Pruitt has recruited some quality players,’’ the coach said. “If he can get better on the offensive line, they’ll be a better team. I’m concerned about their depth. They have better playmakers.
“The question is: why did they finish so poorly last year? They played like crap down the stretch against Missouri (50-17 loss) and Vanderbilt (38-13 defeat). It looked like the players almost didn’t want to go to a bowl game.’’
Another coach believes Pruitt has upgraded his staff.
“Jeremy lucked out getting rid of Tyson Helton and hiring Jim Chaney,’’ the coach said. “I think he’s the best, most proven offensive coordinator in the league. I think Jim is outstanding. If Jeremy will leave him alone, Jim will be fine.’’
For the record, Pruitt told me at SEC Football Media Days that he considers Pruitt the “head coach’’ of the offense, insinuating Chaney will have free reign to run the attack.
One coach stated the obvious: “Tennessee needs a talent upgrade. If Jeremy would have won six games last year with that group, it would have been a miracle. Heck, beating (nationally ranked) Auburn and Kentucky was a miracle.’’
Tennessee’s other three wins were over ETSU, UTEP and Charlotte.
Of UT’s seven defeats, six were by at least 25 points.
“They’ll be more competitive than that,’’ one SEC coach said. “I think Jeremy is two years from contending (in the East).’’