football Edit

Why trust and autonomy are most important factors in Vols OC hire

Jeremy Pruitt got a mulligan.

History says he won’t get another one.

On Tuesday, Pruitt got a $1.2 million get-out-of-jail-free-card when Tyson Helton accepted the head coaching position at Western Kentucky. Who he hires to replace Helton could determine Pruitt’s longevity on Rocky Top.

That’s not hyperbole. Just reality.

His boss Phillip Fulmer knows that as well as anyone. So does Will Muschamp.

Seven years ago in an eerily similar situation, Muschamp received a similar do-over after Year 1 at UF. Following a match made in misfit hell, Charlie Weis was scapegoated out of Gainesville and took the head coaching job at Kansas. Muschamp then had an opportunity to hire someone to fix the offense. To stop the meddling.

He tabbed Brent Pease from Boise State, but neither problem went away and the decision ultimately cost Muschamp his job with the Gators.

Pruitt knows he can’t make that same mistake.

While there’s been lots of talk about continuity, stability, fit, scheme, etc., Tennessee simply needs to hire someone good. And someone Pruitt trusts. Implicitly.

It sounds simple, but you’d be amazed at how often that doesn’t happen.


Whether it's Hugh Freeze, Chip Lindsay, Dan Enos or Candidate X, Pruitt must trust whoever he hires.

The consensus around this search is Jeremy is going to go with someone he knows. Someone he's comfortable with. Technically, Tyson Helton checked those boxes last December.

But Pruitt and Helton never meshed. They weren’t on the same page. The Vols had no offensive identity in 2018 — whether that’s on Pruitt or Helton remains up for debate — and the head coach not-so-subtly questioned play-calling after multiple losses this season.

For Tennessee’s turnaround to work, everyone needs to be moving in the same direction. Pruitt must hire a coordinator he truly believes in.

There was plenty of blame to go around for Tennessee’s struggles, but these are the facts: The Vols finished the season ranked in the bottom-20 nationally in total offense.

Just like in 2017.

They allowed a ton of negative plays and finished with the fewest snaps over 10+ yards in the SEC. Just like 2017.

Sure, personnel is a big factor here, but that’s not going to change dramatically in 2019.

Whoever is handed the keys to the offense is still going to be driving a beat up car. A pair of blue-chip offensive lineman and a center coming off another season-ending leg injury won’t suddenly be an injection of NOS for this offense. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano will now be with his fourth OC in four seasons.

The challenge for Pruitt is to hire someone who can bring the best out of a flawed group.

Furthermore, whoever is tabbed for the job must be comfortable and confident enough to take charge within the frameworks of an already established staff. Will Friend isn’t going anywhere. Neither is Brian Niedermeyer or David Johnson. Chris Weinke is very likely to return, too.

Again, trust and autonomy.

Philosophy, play-calling experience and recruiting acumen are all important attributes for this hire, but above all else, Tennessee's head coach must have resolute conviction in whoever he hires. Hand him the offense and let him do this thing.

Pruitt's current boss didn't do that a little over a decade ago. Muschamp made the same mistake. Pruitt must take advantage of his mulligan.