Pruitt brings plenty of change in first spring at Tennessee
By STEVE MEGARGEE
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee's first spring under new coach Jeremy Pruitt is noteworthy for what isn't being said.
Pruitt hasn't mentioned a single player by name at any of his past three post-practice sessions with reporters, which lasted a combined total of more than 45 minutes.
Even when he's asked about a specific player, Pruitt generally responds by referring to that player's entire position group.
"As soon as you single one out, there ain't no telling what he's going to do the next day," the former Alabama defensive coordinator said. "So I figured we'll wait until we see a whole body of work and see where it goes from there."
That reflects just one of the changes a new coaching staff has brought to Tennessee this spring .
Pruitt replaced Butch Jones, who spent his first preseason carrying a microphone in practice and calling out players when they did something right or wrong. Jones was fired last November after going 34-27 in five seasons.
Jones frequently had music playing during practice. The only music that could be heard at Tennessee's Tuesday afternoon workout with Pruitt was coming from the baseball stadium across the street.
"We already just got 20 hours in a week that we can coach them, so I darned sure don't want music out there where they can't hear what I'm saying," Pruitt said.
Even if Pruitt isn't mentioning any players by name to reporters, players say he's still getting his point across.
"He wants the best out of everyone," safety Nigel Warrior said. "He doesn't expect less."
Tennessee players say position meetings are going longer than before. They say staffers are letting them know exactly what's expected.
"Everything is about accountability," offensive tackle Drew Richmond said. "You've got to master your job, master what you do. That's what they're preaching, is when everybody is on the (same) page mastering what they're doing at their position, we're going to hit on all cylinders."
They'll get an early test in that regard.
Pruitt wants Tennessee's April 21 Orange & White Game to reflect an actual game as much as possible. That's a switch from the previous regime, which matched the offense against the defense and had a modified scoring system in which each unit got points for notable accomplishments.
"When you create a game-like atmosphere, there's a little more excitement, a little more anxiety, a little more pressure, butterflies or whatever you want to call it," Pruitt said. "Some guys perform better in those situations. Some guys perform worse. We need to find out who those guys are."
SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy says Pruitt's spring approach doesn't surprise him. McElroy, who played quarterback at Alabama when Pruitt was on the Crimson Tide's staff, says the new Tennessee coach is copying the model that worked for his former bosses.
Pruitt worked for Nick Saban at Alabama and was an offensive coordinator on Jimbo Fisher's Florida State staff when the Seminoles won the national title in the 2013 season.
"The people that he learned from at this level for the most part have been disciplinarians, relatively speaking," McElroy said. "They're considered tough coaches. They take care of their players, but they demand a certain level of accountability that I think has been lacking at Tennessee for the last couple of years."
Something obviously had to change at Tennessee after the Vols went 4-8, set a school record for losses and failed to win a single Southeastern Conference game last season.
"I don't think they were overwhelmingly tough," McElroy said. "I don't think they were as physical as they could have been or should have been. I think there were some things done on the field and some disciplinary action that was warranted that didn't always come down. I also think that was a little bit the product of just having a lot of youth and immaturity in the program.
"I think the world of Butch Jones and still do. I just think he had a lot of young players, and that he didn't always have full control because he wanted to be a players' coach. It's difficult to be both a players' coach and a disciplinarian at the same time."
Pruitt wants to provide more discipline. He brings a winning background after working as an assistant on five different national championship teams. He's leaning on what succeeded where he worked in the past while helping Tennessee try to restore its own proud tradition.
"It's like I tell the guys, they were playing football here long before we were born and they're going to be playing football here long after we're gone," Pruitt said. "It's our job to leave it better than we found it, and we're going to take a lot of pride in doing that."
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Updated April 3, 2018