Your weekly update for all things Orange:
The Volunteers are experiencing a great deal of turnover within their coaching staff this offseason
David Johnson, Chris Rumph, Tracy Rocker, Kevin Sherrer and Drew Hughes are all departing the program looking for greener pastures. Whether they were encouraged to search for other opportunities or left on their own accord is up for debate. What isn’t is that all of these coaches are well-regarded in the SEC and have helped transform Tennessee over the past couple of seasons. Could this lack of continuity be a cause for concern for Vol faithful?
David Johnson, the predecessor to our current running back coach Jay Graham, was caught on video at a Florida State function stating that “it wasn’t a good fit” at UT and he didn’t “really trust what was going on” on the Hill. He ultimately cited this distrust as a reason that he had a hard time recruiting kids to come to Knoxville. He later said that his comments were misunderstood or misinterpreted, but at some level there was a seeming lack of trust between either he and Pruitt or he and the on-goings within the football program.
Too many Vol fans were blind to the red flags along the way under previous regimes. There are assuredly more reasons to be optimistic heading into next year than reasons to be cautious, but it may not be time to crown Pruitt just yet.
On the other hand, There aren’t many successful college football coaches who are easy to work for. Is Nick Saban a dream boss? Ed O? Urban Meyer? One thing that is stated and restated as Pruitt’s staff talks about him are his honesty and clarity regarding expectations for his staff members. He holds each of them accountable to a high standard that he sets for the entire program. Pruitt may be asking more of the staff than they are willing to work. There is some speculation, as the staff gets younger this off-season, that Jeremy wants guys on staff that will recruit at a higher level, which often means more time on the road. As a guy who’s coached at programs with top 5 talent for a decade spent between Alabama, Georgia and Florida State, he recognizes the importance of Jimmies and Joes. These moves may prove in time to be chess moves to take that final step into the top 5 in terms of recruiting. Only time will tell.
One thing is certain: Jeremy Pruitt and his staff have done a tremendous job closing out this year’s recruiting class. Finishing at 7 according to Rivals.com and in the Top 10 according to 247sports.com. This class is one of the program’s best in the decade. This year’s wide receiver class is likely the best in the conference and one of the best in the country. Tennessee closing with Dee Beckwith and Malachi Wideman to partner with the haul from Early Signing Day – Jalin Hyatt, Jimmy Calloway, and QB/WR Jimmy Holliday – gives the Vols size, speed, quickness and athleticism in spades. The strength of the receiver class could be attributed partially to the allure of playing with Harrison Bailey. Most fans will be familiar with Bailey’s name. Many are hoping that he can be the face of the program for the next three years. The quarterback will come into the program as ready and prepared for the next level as a high school quarterback can be. Will his talent paired with his high school training and pedigree be enough to see him finish the upcoming season as the starter? Chaney has been successful with Freshman quarterbacks previously, and there is a good chance that Bailey is the next in line.
The in-state haul is laden with talent as well. The Big Orange managed to sign ten different prospects in this year’s class to stay at home and represent the in-state program. Among some of the most notable are high school All-Americans Omari Thomas and Keshawn Lawrence. Each of them will likely factor in early on along the defensive line and in the defensive backfield respectively. Tennessee does not need any of these guys to step up to the plate immediately. However, it will be hard to keep much of this class off the field with the amount of talent coming in and the way this staff rotates players to keep them fresh.
Tennessee basketball fell to Kentucky this weekend inside Thompson Boling Arena. The Vols are a scrappy team, but are down from a talent perspective and it showed against Kentucky on Saturday. The lack of depth is the most glaring concern with so few players sharing the offensive load. Particularly when you consider that the team’s senior leader is not shooting as well as he has previously. This program has seen shooters experience slumps in their senior year, but it’s compounded by the fact that Bowden is the lone guy from the top 6 in last year’s rotation.
Tennessee did bounce back against Arkansas in a big way following their loss to Kentucky this past weekend. The Volunteers hosted the Razorbacks on Tuesday and knocked off an Arkansas team that was thought to potentially factor in as a bubble team in March. Arkansas has been in a bit of a dry spell over the last eight games or so, clouding their bubble prospects. Tennessee was able to capitalize at home. The Vols would have to win out at this point in order to have a chance at an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. With the teams left on the remainder of the schedule, I think most would argue that winning the conference tournament would be the easier path of the two. Santiago Vescovi continues to be a revelation, particularly for a guy who arrived just over a month ago. He is still prone to turnovers and at times can be a bit reckless with the ball. But for a guy who is still figuring out the offense and America for that matter, he continues to impress on the offensive end. With this basketball team returning the majority of its contributors and the best signing class in Tennessee’s history joining them for next season, the Vols should absolutely be a tournament team next season and will likely fight for the conference title next season. Keep that in mind when this team plays like Jekyll one game and Hyde the next.
To end, in case you missed it, Phillip Fulmer got excited in the wake of national signing day and declared, “The Vols are back.” While he was speaking in reference to football, both programs are headed in the right direction. There is plenty of room for optimism going forward and the Athletic Director is leading the charge on that front.
Share if you like. Thanks for the read. Go Vols.