Jeremy Pruitt debuts at SEC Media Days

Jeremy Pruitt debuts at SEC Media Days

Football

Jeremy Pruitt debuts at SEC Media Days

ATLANTA — Jeremy Pruitt took in his first SEC Media Days as Tennessee’s head coach. Below are questions he answered while at the podium.

Question: You talk a lot about Tennessee bringing it back to the ’90s. The last 10 years with the struggles of Tennessee football and the coaching leading up to your hire, how do you assess the state of the program you’re walking into?

The only thing I can assess is the last six months. I wasn’t at Tennessee the last ten years. I’ve been there for six months. Right now I’d say that from the top down, from the boosters, the fan base, the players, everybody involved in the program, we’re all running in the same direction, and we’re running as fast as we can. So I think that’s what it takes, and that’s all we’re worried about.

Question: You probably know more about Anthony Jennings than most any other head coach in the SEC. Tell us about what you remember from him during the time you coached him as a player and a person?

You said who now?

Question: Jennings.

Okay. I gotcha. The guy’s smart. He’s tough, comes from a good family, very instinctive and wished he was on our team.

Question: Jeremy, how do you go about re-establishing, I guess, in-state recruiting to the point where Tennessee’s the top choice of interstate recruits because when a program struggles, other schools come in and take players. How do you kind of go back and turn back the other way?

Well, I think it’s important in recruiting is the first thing is you got to be organized in recruiting process. You got to understand what you’re looking for at each position. You got to have critical factors that are important to you.

It’s important — you know, at some positions, there’s a size or speed criteria. And then you just talk about, to me, probably the most important thing is what kind of character do they have, what kind of affect do they have on teammates, how do they handle adversity. So I think it’s definitely important to recruit our state, but I think when you look at the power of the T, it’s a national brand. And you have an opportunity to go anywhere in the country and everybody knows what Tennessee’s all about.

But whether it’s in our state, somebody else’s state, I think it’s important that we get the right players that fit us.

Question: Coach, you’ve been a part of a lot of championship programs, Nick Saban, Alabama and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. Have you asked any advice for your move to Tennessee and if so, what advice did they give you? And did you take any lessons from them?

You think Coach Saban is going to give me advice? There’s a lot of us in the league. We’ve known us for a while, some of us assistant coaches, and now I get an opportunity now. It is probably you better write down everything you can. You better take it all in while you have the opportunity because as soon as you go put on the other uniform, I can guarantee you, everybody, even though everybody’s friends, we want to beat the other guy. You know? So we don’t want to give the other person the edge.

Question: Jeremy, historically, Tennessee coaches have controlled the Vanderbilt series. Lately that’s not been the case. Vande’s won four out of the last six. I know it’s not the Iron Bowl, but it is an interstate rivalry. What are your thoughts on the importance of controlling that in-state series?

I think there’s obviously natural rivalries in this conference. You talk about Tennessee/Vanderbilt, Tennessee/Georgia, Tennessee/Florida, Tennessee/Alabama.

Years ago, there was Tennessee/Auburn.

We play all those guys this year. When another team is beating you on a regular basis, it don’t seem like the rivalry that probably stick anymore. One thing we go to do is we got to do our part, and I think we will when it comes to that.

Question: I’m curious what you felt like the greatest source of pressure was for you when you were a college football player and maybe what the greatest source of pressure is for players now?

The greatest source of pressure? I think a lot of guys, probably the great ones, they put more pressure on themselves than they receive from anybody else. You know, we had a talk the other day of everybody has fear, you know? So what’s your fears?

You know, probably — Coach Friend was doing the talk. He is talking about his fears were of failure and not providing for his family or something. So there’s other guys in the room that kind of talked about it, but I think the pressure comes from within. So I think it motivates a lot of the great ones.

Question: You had some strong words for the fan base after the Orange & White game back in the spring. What kind of response and feedback have you gotten since then?

Well, I think the last time I checked, somebody was keeping numbers on how many fans were at the spring game, right? Well, our goal at Tennessee is to be the very best at everything we do. We have phenomenal fans, phenomenal.

When I tell you have everywhere I’ve been, I couldn’t ask for more information or what they’ve done to provide for my wife, or families on our staff, the welcoming we’ve had in the city of Knoxville, and it’s been everywhere we’ve been.

So I’m excited to have an opportunity to give back to this fan base. My goal is to help put a football team on the field that they can be proud of by the way they play with their toughness, their effort, the way they play together. They play smart. No matter what’s on the score board, when they leave the stadium, they say you know what, that’s our team. That’s what I want to give to our fan base.

Question: Some of the coaches this week have talked about establishing their culture, you know, in their first season, second season. What are your biggest focal points for that and what is the process you’re going to take to do that and also what led to Eli Wolf being the most improved player in the spring?

Well, the first part with Eli Wolf is when we started spring, Eli probably couldn’t block me. And by the time spring was over with, Eli had learned to string and tried to finish and really done a good job.

If we can get everybody to compete and play with the effort and toughness and intensity that Eli was playing with maybe the last seven or eight practices, we’re going to be fine.

As far as the culture, to me, it’s about expectations. You know, there’s a bunch of different ways to do it. I think it’s important that everything in the organization is defined. It’s clear. Everybody has an understanding. And if somebody’s not meeting the expectations, you got to be able to confront them and get it fixed or they’re going to continue to do the same thing.

Question: Two-part question: One, now that Brandon Kennedy has arrived, how do you feel about it now? And, two, has that caused any kind of rift between you and Coach Saban?

Well, first of all, Brandon, we’re excited to have him. He’ll be a great part for our offensive line. The guy’s smart, obviously graduates and has two years of eligibility. He’s a really good competitor.

Unfortunately, he got hurt there one year. So we’re excited to have him. And absolutely not. I respect

Coach Saban. We’re friends. He’s been really good to me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here if he hadn’t called and offered me a job one day, and I’m very thankful for him for doing that.

Question: How much do you expect J.J. Peterson and the rest of your first recruiting class to contribute this year?

Well, we have a couple of guys that are out there that are still waiting to get information back. And as we gather that information, we’ll know when they’re going to be there.

Question: Two-part question: First, talk about adding Will Friend as your offensive line coach. I know you guys have a preexisting relationship back to your playing days at Alabama. And also your father Dale Pruitt at Albertville High School. I know you played for him coached under him. What is the biggest influence he had on your coaching career and the way you handle your program?

I will say this about my dad to start with, he always saw the good in people. He found the way to get the most out of them. He never gave up on young men.

So over the years, you would sit there and there would be somebody that you didn’t think would ever play. And by the time he was a senior, he would be playing or whatever. He didn’t only do that with his players. He had done that with the other students in the school. So I think that was important to me.

As far as Will Friend, me and Will played together. We lived together in college. I’ve coached with him. I’ve coached against him. You know, probably in the last several years, you know, going against him, there’s only a few teams that really ran the ball consistently against us. And two of them were teams that he was a line coach. One of them was the 2012 Georgia team. And one of them was last year at Colorado State. So I think Will does a fantastic job. Again, he’s a coach’s son. He started off as a high school coach, very good teacher, motivator, hard-nosed approach, great guy.

Question: You mentioned the 12 players who were held out in the spring due to injury. Can you give an update on Trey Smith and what’s his clearance level for the —

Our doctors have done a fantastic job recognizing Trey had a condition in the spring that kept him out of practice. They diagnosed it, treated it. He’s going to be back in the fall. We’re excited to have him back. We can’t wait to get him back, and he’s excited about coming back. He keeps talking to me about, man, I missed all of those reps in the spring. I said I promise you, you’ll be fine.

Question: How important is Marquez Callaway to this coming season?

Well, I think if you’re going to be good on offense, you better have guys that are hard to guard on the perimeter. Either they can take the top off or they’re big power forward guys. I know that puts pressure on defenses as a defensive coordinator. If they don’t have guys that can win outside, it makes it easy to call the game.

I think Marquez gives that element of a guy that can play with speed or he can play with power. We’re excited about seeing what he can do this fall.

Question: How would you assess your quarterback room with the guys you have and the addition of Keller Chryst?

We have two young men, Jarrett and Will that were there in the spring. They’ll have 15 practices under their belt. We add Keller Chryst coming from Stanford who has played football there, has experience. And we are adding another young man from California, J.T. Shrout. We’ll give those guys opportunities in fall camp.

I think for us seeing what these other two new guys can do along with what the guys, see how they progress in fall camp, I think it’s going to be important for us as a staff to start whittling it down pretty fast so we can kind of create rhythm and timing and a little bit of chemistry on offense and figure out who our guys are going to be.

Question: I just wondered, how would you characterize your time in Athens and your relationship with Mark Richt and how that relationship is today and how it might have affected helping you become a head coach eventually?

Yeah. You know, I’ve been very fortunate to work for some really good coaches. I worked for my dad, worked for some great guys in high school, worked with guys who are now head coaches. But, you know, working with Coach Saban, Coach Richt, Jimbo, it’s been — there’s a lot of lessons that I have learned.

You know, you talk about Coach Saban, I could sit here and write a book because I worked him the longest. I worked for him for eight years. You know, he was — everything in Coach Saban’s program is defined. He’s relentless. Nobody works harder than he does. He’s a great coach, great teacher.

Jimbo, I talked to Jimbo last night on the phone. Jimbo, kind of from the same tree, hard-nosed, competitor, great evaluator. His teams play great.

Coach Richt, it’s very interesting when you look at Coach Richt’s background was probably through Coach Bowden. And you got Saban. I think I’m probably one of the few guys that has had an opportunity to work in both kind of family trees there.

You know, Coach Richt, you know, the things he taught you, one thing, probably the biggest thing to me is there’s more to life than football. I know that sounds — but there is. And, you know, one of these days, that — you don’t care how many championships you win and all that. So I’m thankful for the opportunity.

My time in Athens, I loved it, built a lot of great relationships. And now obviously we play on the fourth week and Kirby’s there. And I’m sure I’ll want to beat him. He’ll want to beat me.

Question: At the running back position, you guys returned Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler and Madre London coming in from Michigan State. Do you expect to see a running back by committee approach for that position this fall?

I think if you’re going to be a running the football in this league, you probably have to have four to six guys. It’s a physical guy.

When you turn around and hand the ball, there’s 11 guys on the other side who are usually big, fast and angry trying to hit you. So there’s lots of contact. I think you probably need four to six guys.

You know, Ty and Tim both were there this spring. We actually had Trey Coleman, and we moved Princeton Fant from tight end to running back just to give us four. We’ve brought in Jeremy Banks and Madre London is a grad transfer. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out with these guys. I know they’re working hard. I think we’ll probably need all of them before the year’s over with.

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