What is happening up on The Hill? Why is Jarrett Guarantano still the starting quarterback at the University of Tennessee, as we head into the game against Arkansas? Why has the program elected to deny any other option a legitimate shot to start? Another option at the position could serve as a springboard for future success and give fans some form of hope looking forward.
There are a variety of rumors that have been espoused on the radio and in public circles: “Pruitt is unhappy in Knoxville and wants his buyout.” “Jarrett has some dirt on Pruitt and is blackmailing him into oblivion.” “Guarantano is the illegitimate son of Coach Pruitt.”
While each of these conspiracy theories seems extremely likely, it seems more likely Pruitt is trying to build a culture and might just have his finger on the pulse of this team. Following the Alabama game, he was asked about giving the youth of the team the priority in order to build for the future, Pruitt responded, “I don’t think it’s the right way to build a program, because the players know who’s earned the opportunity to play on Saturdays.”
There is a culture to be built. That was evident from the start as the players on the team talked about how much harder they were working under Pruitt. The guys that are praised within the program are always those that are working the hardest throughout the week, not necessarily those who perform on Saturdays. How much has Henry To’oto’o been praised for the work he and Jeremy Banks have put in, working out and in the film room? If Tennessee were to give guys that aren’t working hard a free pass now, the effort issues are pushed down the line and a sense of entitlement is created within the team. This was the problem with Hurd, an issue that arguably blew up the team and cost Tennessee a shot at its first SEC championship appearance in more than a decade at that time.
The downside is this: Jeremy Pruitt may run out of time. Guarantano isn’t working. Most can see that. Pruitt sees that. He’s making the choice to sacrifice a longshot at short-term success for the longevity of the program. Making the hard decisions is never popular, but it is necessary to build something that lasts. The wheels may never leave the ground, but the steps that are being taken are with the future in mind.
Whether fans want to admit it or not, the guy knows football. He’s played and coached at a high level. This isn’t a similar situation to Butch Jones. A guy known more for holding a trumpet than playing football in his younger years. He wasn’t a coordinator anywhere other than CMU. He rode in the wake of a successful head coach in Brian Kelly year after year, first at CMU and next at Cincinnati. While the outcome may be similar in the end, their respective roads to Knoxville could not have been more different. Jones built a program like it was the Wild West. Empty Promises. Guys guaranteed to start irregardless of the work they put in. Pruitt is building a program built on discipline and hard work. It may not work out, but it’s more likely to last without a doubt.
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