Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Pruitt Earthquake Hits Rocky Top Part 4

As I finish the tale of Jeremy Pruitt, not born on a mountain top in Tennessee, but taking over the team just the same, he’s presently coaching the University of Alabama defense in the Sugar Bowl against No. 1 ranked Clemson.

It’s odd to see Pruitt on the Bama sideline at this point, considering he should be hitting the recruiting trail for Tennessee. I get it. I mean, it’s not like it’s some worthless bowl game. Alabama is in the College Football Playoff with every chance to win another national title. If there’s ever a reason to skip a week or two at your new job, that seems like a good one. Plus, I have to believe a shiny national championship ring will look really good in four and five-star living rooms all over the country this spring.

When we last left our sordid story, Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm and N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren had both laughed right in then University of Tennessee athletic director John Currie’s face, turning his overtures down flat before an offer could even be made.

To get all caught up, read part one here. Part two here and part three here.

A WILD LEACH APPEARS!

Currie could have saved his job at this point with one simple move; hiring Les Miles. When people asked me who I thought should be the next coach at UT, Miles was always my top choice. His recruiting prowess at LSU continually had them in the Top Three classes in the country. Miles’ problem was the assistant coaches he hired, like offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in his final year with the Tigers.

It seemed obvious to me Miles was interested in the job. He was always Tweeting about Tennessee football and, after Currie had already gone through his Greg Schiano to Mike Gundy to Jeff Brohm to Dave Doeren debacle, Miles even let ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg know he’d be interested in the job.

It didn’t happen. Instead, Currie proved exactly how dumb he was by first contacting fired Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, then heading way west to woo Washington State’s Mike Leach. For a solid day, this seemed like the end of the road. Leach would get the job.

As I said earlier in this series, Tennessee does not have the program that can afford to hire anyone with any baggage. Not after a couple of rape trials and a huge sexual harassment settlement. Yet, here was Currie again, failing to do a basic Google search, and going after a guy that that was fired by Texas Tech for forcing Adam James, son of former ESPN analyst Craig James, to stand in an equipment room as punishment after doctors said he couldn’t practice due to a concussion. The university suspended him for the 2010 Alamo Bowl over the incident and fired him later. He was out of coaching for the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

The people in charge at UT had seen enough. They called Currie back to Knoxville before he could close any deal with Leach and fired him. In the streets, there was much rejoicing.

PHIL FULMER RETURNS

Fulmer is probably the second best head coach in University of Tennessee history. After he took over for an ill Johnny Majors in 1992, he led the Volunteers to five Southeastern Conference Eastern Division titles, two SEC titles and one national title.

Who was the best? General Robert Neyland, who coached at Tennessee from 1926-1952, with the exception of the years he was called back into military service (the “General” was no nickname). He won four national titles, two Southern Conference Titles and five SEC Titles. The stadium Tennessee plays in to this day was designed by him and his named after him. So, yeah, he’s got the top spot.

But Phil was No. 2 and it’s not close. Realizing that, you’d think (and some people do), that Fulmer got the shaft when the school fired him in 2008 after just the second losing season of his 16 seasons, but there were reasons for Fulmer’s dismissal outside of just losing. It was how he lost. For instance, he played a quarterback, Eric Ainge, that was addicted to painkillers to the point where he had no idea what was in the playbook. His final season with the team, his recruiting class was so terrible it wasn’t even ranked by Rivals.com or Scout.com.

But time fixes everything and after years of Derek Dooley and Butch Jones, the Tennessee faithful were happy to see the university name Fulmer as “Acting” athletic director. Make no mistake, it’s Fulmer’s job to keep if he wants it.

With the addition of Fulmer and the jettisoning of Currie, the entire coaching search reset. All of the mess that Currie and booster Jimmy Haslam had created faded away. It was a fresh start and one that Fulmer wanted to nail right out of the gate.

PRUITT HAPPENS, FINALLY

Les Miles was floated out again, but Fulmer had his own guy picked out. A guy nobody was talking about, but when announced everyone reacted the same way, “Oh yeah. That guy.”

The guy that led three straight defenses and four of his last five (across three different schools, no less) to top 10 finishes including No. 2 rankings in 2016 and 2017 and a No. 1 ranking with Florida State in 2013. It was, of course, Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

After a month of idiocy, $13.8 million in payouts to Jones and Currie and not even counting what they might owe to Schiano for their “memo of understanding,” the Volunteers had their head coach. It was the guy they should have gone after from the beginning.

The fact that I didn’t think of Pruitt is one thing. I’m the NFL beat writer here and, locally, I’m the beat writer for the local Division II football team, Carson-Newman University. It’s literally not my job to consider Jeremy Priutt for the head coaching position at the University of Tennessee. It was, however, John Currie’s and he completely whiffed it. Fulmer didn’t.

There were no protests this time. No rocks painted with angry slogans. Just a contented fanbase with a coach they actually wanted and felt was qualified for the job. For the first time that I can remember, a group of fans on the streets and on the internet, joined together to not only stop a school from hiring a head coach, but also get it to fire its athletic director in the span of three weeks.

It was completely insane. Thank God it all happened.

To make a wager on any sport, go to the world famous Diamond Sportsbook by clicking here.

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