KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The University of Tennessee announced Monday it is parting ways with football coach Jeremy Pruitt after three seasons at the helm of the program. Athletic director Phillip Fulmer is also stepping down after three seasons.
Here are 6 Things to Know about Jermey Pruitt’s firing and where the Vols go now:
Program uncertainty continues
Change at the top of the Vols football program is becoming second nature.
Following the end to Fulmer’s coaching career near the end of the 2008 season, Tennessee has had six different head coaches, four permanent (Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Butch Jones and Pruitt) and two interim (Jim Chaney and Brady Hoke), in 13 seasons.
Pruitt’s record of 16-19 (.457) is third worst among UT coaches with more than one season coached. The only two coaches with a worse record are Dooley 15-21 (.417) from 2010-12 and James DePree 4-11-3 (.306) from 1905-06.
Tennessee is also under investigation by the NCAA for the second time in 13 seasons after reports of recruiting violations and impermissible benefits surfaced during the final game of the 2020 season against Texas A&M.
In 2011, the NCAA cited Kiffin for “failure to monitor” his program after he left to take the head coaching job at Southern California following the 2009 season. Tennessee was placed on NCAA probation until August 2015 as a result of recruiting infractions.
Pruitt’s tenure included new lows for the Tennessee program. Despite finishing 8-5 in 2019, the Vols began the year 1-4 including losses to Georgia State, 30-38, and BYU, 26-29. It was the worst start for a Tennessee team since the 1988 team started 0-6.
This past season, the Vols were 3-7, the lowest win total since 1924 (3-5). The all-conference schedule saw Tennessee lose all seven games by double digits. Pruitt was 0-9 against Tennessee’s rivals Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
The Vols roster next season could see a total turnover after players leave for other schools. The Vols have lost 13 players already to the transfer portal and three more are still in the portal. Tight end Austin Pope announced he would return to UT after entering the portal.
Three players that still have college eligibility have announced they will leave UT and enter the NFL Draft: offensive lineman Trey Smith, defensive back Bryce Thompson and wide receiver Josh Palmer.
The NCAA is allowing seniors from this past season to have the option to return for another year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seniors that have no made a decision whether to return or not include offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy, offensive lineman Riley Locklear, offensive lineman Jahmir Johnson, kicker Brent Cimaglia, defensive lineman Ja’Quain Blakely, defensive lineman LaTrell Bumphus, defensive lineman Aubrey Solomon, and defensive back Theo Jackson.
Wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., cornerback Kenneth George Jr., and defensive linemen Matthew Butler and Darel Middleton has already announced they will return to Tennessee for the 2021 season.
List of transfers:
- Jarrett Guarantano, QB, is transferring to Washington State.
- J.T. Shrout, QB, is transferring to Colorado.
- Kasim Hill, QB, is transferring to Rhode Island.
- Ty Chandler, RB, is transferring to North Carolina.
- Brandon Johnson, WR, is transferring to Central Florida.
- Jordan Allen, TE, is transferring to Weber State.
- Jarious Abercrombie, OL, is transferring to Illinois State.
- Wanya Morris, OL, is transferring to Oklahoma.
- Savion Williams, DL, is transferring to Florida A&M.
- Deandre Johnson, LB, is transferring to Miami.
- Nyles Gaddy, LB, is transferring to Jackson State.
- Ethan Rinke, LB, is transferring to South Alabama.
- Baylen Buchanan, DB, is transferring to Louisiana Tech.
Still in the portal:
- Jackson Lowe, TE
- Isaiah Montgomery, WR
- Kivon Bennett, LB
Steele will be acting head coach
Less than a week after being named to Pruitt’s staff, Kevin Steele has been elevated from an assistant defensive coach to acting head coach. Steele, a Tennessee alum, returned to UT from Auburn where he was defensive coordinator.
Steele was last on campus in a coaching role. He served as defensive backs coach under Johnny Majors from 1987-88. At the same time, Fulmer was on the Vols staff as offensive line coach.
Who will lead UT going forward?
Names have been whirling since the end of the season as to who might take over at the head coach of the Volunteers. While a coach won’t be named until an athletic director is hired, here are some of the names that might be considered to lead the Vols on the field:
In the past Tennessee has tended to go after “one of their own.” Steele fits that mold. The former Vol has 38 years of coaching experience, including head coaching experience. Steele led Baylor to a 9-36 record from 1999-2002.
The last time Steele was on campus as a Vols coach was 1987-88 when he was on Johnny Majors’ staff with Fulmer.
Tennessee made a home run hire taking former Texas Longhorns basketball coach Rick Barnes and bringing him to Rocky Top. Could the same happen in football? Herman was let go despite a 32-18 record in four years at Texas, including a 7-3 record last year and four bowl wins.
Overall, Herman’s record as head coach is 54-22 at Texas and Houston.
Bill O’Brien was let go mid-season from the NFL’s Houston Texans. Having a coach with NFL experience could prove intriguing to prospects. O’Brien was 52-48 in Houston and also has college football experience. He led Penn State from 2012-13 and had a 15-9 record.
O’Brien was also interviewed by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam before signing Kevin Stefanski. Haslam is also a Tennessee Vols booster.
Doug Marrone was let go from the Jacksonville Jaguars after a 1-15 season. He was 23-43 in five years with Jacksonville and 15-17 in two years previously with the Buffalo Bills.
Marrone was also tight ends and offensive tackles coach during the 2001 season and coached VFL great Jason Witten.
While not quite a VFL, Chadwell has plenty of ties to East Tennessee. The former Anderson County Maverick played college football at ETSU and just recently led Coastal Carolina to an 11-1 record in 2020. He is 19-17 in three seasons with the Chanticleers.
Napier is another coach with ties to the area. Born in Cookeville, Napier has stints as an assistant under Alabama coach Nick Saban and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. As coach of Louisiana, Napier led the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 10-1 record in 2020. His overall coaching record is 28-11 in three seasons at Louisiana.
Why not dream big? Stoops, a former national championship coach at Oklahoma, is currently without a job after the XFL folded after one season. His last year on a college sideline was 2016. He won the Big 12 Conference championship 10 times in 18 years and took the Sooners to a bowl game every year.
This is a developing story.