football Edit

Key early decision paying big dividends for Pruitt

Coaches love to tell their players that a handful of plays make the difference in a game and those plays can come at any time during a sixty-minute fight.

Similar for new coaches trying to establish their program: a handful of decisions can be critical to a rebuild.

For head coach Jeremy Pruitt, “The Jauan Jennings decision” was one of those key moments.

“I didn’t know anything about Jauan Jennings. I knew him as an opposing player on another team. When I got the job, there were some details about what all happened here, and I asked a lot of people in the building what they thought, and most of them that said they wouldn’t let him come back, they don’t work here anymore. The people that said to let him come back; they all work here. When you start talking to the players that played on the team, the Trey Smiths, the Daniel Bitulis, and they say, ‘Coach, we want this guy on our team.’ So, I knew enough about those guys in recruiting to know that they knew what was right and what was wrong, so then we gave him an opportunity, we set out some things there that we required him to do, and he’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do. It goes to show you that when you get second chances, sometimes people make the most of them, and Jauan Jennings has made the most of his chances here this second time around.

As Jauan Jennings sits as the reigning SEC Offensive player of the week and the team’s leading receiver (42-652-7), it seems like a no-brainer to have brought Jennings back.

It wasn’t. If Pruitt had said “no” to Jennings 23 months ago, few would have criticized him for the decision.

In November of 2017, Jennings went on his infamous social media rant and was dismissed by interim head coach Brady Hoke and then-AD John Currie. Both men would be gone less than a month after the Jennings’ decision.

Jennings embarrassed himself and the school. The 2017 season had been a disappointment. Those Vols went winless in SEC play and Jennings had three catches for 17 yards in the season opener before breaking his wrist. It was an ugly year for the program and for Jennings, who couldn’t get healthy and had been privately critical of quarterback play and decisions. Jennings had been a giant pain.

Which leads me to Pruitt’s decision on Jennings. It would have been simpler for a new coach to take a pass on the Murfreesboro native. But Pruitt chose the more difficult path, the second-chance path.

Second-chances in life come more frequently for those who are more talented. A superstar actor or musician is more likely to get a second-chance than an average one. A talented athlete is going to get that chance, as well.

But here was Jennings, talented yes, but a receiver whose recent Vol resume’ showed only a three-catch, broken-wrist, problematic-knee, bad-attitude sort of dude.

Less than a month on the job, Pruitt faced an important decision, one that was very critical for the development of the program. Pruitt didn’t take the decision lightly at all. Trust me when I say that he thoroughly researched the situation by visiting with as many people as he could. Pruitt did so along with athletic director Phillip Fulmer, a champion for giving players second-chances.

Pruitt asked the right questions.

Who is Jauan Jennings? Competitive. But competitive to a fault?

Is he going to do what’s expected or is he going to fight and resist the system?

Will the self-proclaimed leader lead in tow with the program’s standards or will his leadership be destructive?

Could he get healthy enough to even be productive?

Was Jauan Jennings “a dog” (worthless) or was he simply filled with the right amount of “dog” (fearless aggression) that Tennessee needed desperately?

We know the rest of the story…and it’s pretty cool.

Second-chances are part of what makes sports great. Jauan Jennings’ second-chance is a great story in 2019. It’s making him money and is making Jeremy Pruitt much more popular with the Big Orange Nation.

The Vols enter the month of November with possibilities no one thought possible back in September. Pruitt’s first critical personnel decision is leading the way. Jauan Jennings is exactly what Pruitt needed in his program---an extreme competitor who’s has shown up everyday. And Pruitt was exactly what Jennings needed---a demanding coach who wouldn’t let him cut corners, who was brutally honest with him and who wanted to know and understand him.

Who knew how important a December 2017 decision would be 23 months later for the Vols? Pruitt did his due diligence and got it right on Jauan Jennings.

If Pruitt keeps making decisions like this one over the next few months, Tennessee is coming out of the football wilderness sooner rather than later.

And he’ll have Jauan Jennings to thank in a big way.