Tennessee’s 2018 class ranked 20th in the nation. That’s admirable for Jeremy Pruitt who had only a week to address the inaugural early signing period. However, it’s certainly reasonable to think it could have been better had Pruitt had more time to recruit for the Vols.
In a recent interview with WGOW, UT athletic director Phillip Fulmer admitted as much while complimenting his first major hire at the same time. Fulmer recalled the text he sent Pruitt after Alabama beat Clemson to advance to the national title game, which meant Pruitt would still be coaching the Crimson Tide for another week.
“Congratulations…damnit,” it read.
Fulmer and Pruitt both agreed that Pruitt would remain as Bama’s defensive coordinator as long as the Crimson Tide was in the College Football Playoff. That’s not uncommon. Georgia coach Kirby Smart did the same when he was hired by the Bulldogs when he was Alabama’s defensive coordinator. However, this was a different situation with the early signing period.
“When you only have seven days like we had, it kicked us in the teeth pretty good for his first class,” Fulmer said. “To his credit, we did have some good kids. We actually finished that part pretty well and I think we got a few really good players in that second part before National Signing Day.”
To UT’s defense, no one knew such a vast majority of top prospects would sign early. Estimates have ranged from 70 to 80-percent of the nation’s elite prospects took advantage of the early signing period. That made it tough on first-year coaches that weren’t with their team. Fulmer said he was surprised by the amount of prospects that signed early.
“I wish he would have been here but we got a lot of exposure from it (Pruitt being in the national title game). That part was good for us,” Fulmer said. “The early signing, I guess it’s going to be okay. I can see where if you’ve got a staff in place and you’re working toward it and you get the guys off the table that you know are going to go to the school…but if they don’t commit, you’re spending time and money on those guys. That’s never good.”
Oddly enough, UT struggled more in the second signing period as they missed out on at least a pair of highly rated prospects. The pool simply wasn’t as big as it would have been before the early signing period.
“He was not happy the way a couple of things went down at the end,” Fulmer said. “He’s such a competitor and I love that about him. That’s what you have to be. Anything you’re going to be successful at, you have to believe in it and compete.”
Fulmer pointed out that it was a recruiting dead period for much of the time Pruitt was coaching at Alabama. However, phone calls and studying video for player evaluation would have been valuable. Fulmer certainly seemed to think Pruitt made the best out of a tough situation.
“We hire him on one day, had the press conference and the next day we sent out a couple of jets,” Fulmer said. “We had seven guys in here working to salvage a recruiting class. We’d like for it to have been a little bit better at the end than it was, but we finished really good from where we were. I’m proud that he’s here. Now we’ve got to all go to work and figure out how to get back in the championship mix.”
There’s no question that UT’s roster needs an upgrade. Pruitt is well aware of that, Fulmer said.
“We had really special players here while I was a coach,” Fulmer said. “He played against a lot of them. He knows about them. That’s what he wants to get back at Tennessee, great players then coach the stew out of them and develop them.”
At least in this recruiting cycle, Pruitt won’t have to work two jobs at once.