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July 18, 2018
JEREMY PRUITT: You know, there's a lot of firsts for me, my first SEC meetings and sitting in there for a couple of days, it was real easy to see why this conference is the best conference in the country.
You know, sitting around and listening to Greg talk and lead the meetings, brilliant guy, and has a plan for everything. And Greg, I just want to say thank you for that introduction and thank you for having me.
Thank you to the media. This is the best conference in the country. And a lot of it has to do with exposure that you guys get. Everywhere you're at, it don't matter if you you're in Knoxville, Tennessee or you can be in Houston, Texas, or you can be in Cincinnati, Ohio, wherever, the coverage for the SEC is second to none. Thank you for that.
For me, when I chose to go to Tennessee, and our staff chose to go to Tennessee, our number one goal is to build a championship program. To do that, it takes commitment, and it takes resources.
When you talk about commitment, you can look at the Tennessee fan base. I've been all over the state. I've been all over the southeast. The passion, you can feel it. We're hungry. They're hungry. Everybody's hungry. We're excited to get started. We're excited to get this era started and can't wait to do it.
When you talk about facilities, our facilities there, the plan that's been in place, just in the last six months, we have added a practice facility, an extra practice field. We have redone our weight room, and we have also redone the Anderson Center. So when you talk about commitment, you got to have the resources to do it. I think it starts at the top. It starts with our athletic director, Phillip Fulmer. A lot of people ask questions, what is it like working with
Coach Fulmer? The easiest way to look at it is this, if you told me I was going to be the head coach at Tennessee and I could choose who the athletic director was going to be, I would choose Coach Fulmer. Coach Fulmer was a player there. He was an assistant coach. He's a championship head coach at Tennessee.
All of the things that helped make Tennessee great, he knows what it took to get there. When there's a bump in the road, he probably knows the things that can help steer me away from it. I am thankful I have an opportunity, if I have questions, because I'll tell you something, whatever you do, I talk about football being a developmental game, it's the same way for coaches. I am sure ten years from now, I'll be a better head coach than I will be this fall.
The good part for me is if I have questions, I have a guy I can walk 30 feet down the hall and lean on him. I think he's going to expedite this process to help us get to be a championship program again.
To me, if you're going to build that, you got to have a strong staff. When we went to look to build our staff, the first thing that we were looking for was good people. When you're talking about the ten full-time coaches and myself, eight of us started off as high school football coaches. To me, that's important. If you're going to get in the high school game, you are doing it because you want to have a positive impact on young people. I know our guys, that's their first priority.
If you're a high school coach, you got to understand how to be a really good teacher. You got to understand the teaching progression. I think our guys are fantastic teachers.
If you're going to build a championship program, you got to be able to recruit obviously, but you got to be able to develop what's on your team. I think a great illustration of who our staff is, if you look at this past year's NFL draft, there's 32 picks in the first round. There's eight young men that were drafted in the first round that somebody on our staff either recruited, coached or helped develop in their program at some point in time.
If you're going to win championships, you got to have guys that are winners, guys that have been there that understand it and know what it takes to do that. With 11 guys on our staff, 13 times some member on our staff has been on a national championship staff. To me, that's pretty impressive. To me, the most important thing building this program is graduating our players, graduating our student-athletes.
Joe Scogin is head of our academic department. His staff does a fantastic job. They are proactive. They are not reactive. We have ten seniors on our football team entering this season, but we will have ten young men that have already graduated. At Christmas, we're going have 22 men on our roster that have already received their degrees, and that's with only ten seniors. That tells you a little about Joe and what kind of job that he's doing. If you look at our roster, there's over 40 degrees representatives. So that says a lot about the versatility of the university there.
You look at our staff, Tracy Rocker, he won the Outland. He won the Lombardi. Chris Weinke, he won the Heisman Trophy. Terry Fair, he was a first-round pick. There's no staff in the country that illustrates more how important a degree is. As good as those guys were at what they did, some day somebody told them they weren't good enough. Then they had to lean on the whole reason they went to school and I think our staff exemplifies that. You know, the power of the T. The T represents power.
You know, for our guys, the opportunities that exist, with the people that are associated with the University of Tennessee, once football's over with, I've been to Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Bristol, Knoxville, Atlanta, Georgia, Charlotte, North Carolina, Huntington, West Virginia, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Everywhere I've been, I've seen and felt the power of the T. And I'm honored to have a chance to represent the University of Tennessee, and we're excited to get this season going.
There's three young men that we brought today. The first one is Kyle Phillips, he's a senior defensive lineman from Nashville. Kyle has already graduated in sports management. When I got there, Kyle was probably 260 pounds, and he's worked really hard. I think he's between 275 and 280 pounds. He signed at Tennessee to be a 4-3 defensive end and probably based off the skill set, we've added some weight to him. And the guy has done everything that we've asked him to do.
The next young man is Eli Wolf. The first time I met Eli, I was standing in Smokies. And Ms. Milly and her crew have done a fantastic job in Smokies. She's got it ready, rocking and rolling every day. I look to my right, and there's Eli. I ask him because I'm thinking he might be a manager or might be an athletic trainer. I said what position do you play? He said, Coach, I'm a tight end. I said really? You can block one of these SEC guys or somebody? He said I don't know about that, Coach, but I can run a 4.5. I said, if you are going to play tight end for us, you are going to have to learn to block. I will say this about Eli, he went out there. He's gained 20 pounds since January. He won the most improved player on the offensive side of the ball in the spring. He competed, and he's also a business major.
Marquez Callaway, Marquez is right here from Macon, Georgia. He's one of 14 young men from the state of Georgia that are on our football team. Marquez is a communications major. He's a junior. I think he's been a great representative of the university, and we're excited to have him here. Our guys have worked extremely hard since we've arrived in Knoxville.
Coach Fitz in the weight room has a plan. Our guys have bought in you a hundred percent. All we've had to do is define it for them. And these guys have tried to do everything that we've asked them to do. We're excited about how hard they're working this summer, the direction they're going.
Our guys have done a really nice job for us, recruiting for us. I think it says a lot about our football team and the young men there. We've only had two people to leave our program since I've been at Tennessee, and both young men came to me the day that I got the job and said they elected to transfer. Since then, we've not had anybody else. That's very unusual in a coaching change. I think our guys are excited. They're hungry and can't wait to get the season started.
You know, right now, for us, there's lots of unknowns, lots of unknowns. We had 12 young men who did not participate in spring football because some sort of injury. We have 15 newcomers. Whether they are a junior college guy or they're a freshman and we have three grad transfers.
So there's 30 guys that didn't participate in Spring Ball. Well, now that we have everybody here, I'm excited about it because we now have competition. And I think we'll get the best out of everybody in our program, and we're ready to get started.
We opened the season with West Virginia, tremendous opponent in Charlotte. I think it's great for our program. We're three hours from Charlotte. We have a lot of alumni that live in that area. We recruit the state of North Carolina. I think the same thing as you could be said about West Virginia.
We're excited about that. And then of course, we'll worry about the rest of our season from then on. I know in the SEC, there's fantastic coaches, fantastic programs, great players. You know the passion. I've been in the league long enough. A lot of parody. It's very competitive. It is hard to win in this league, hard to win. You have got to do things the right way all of the time. That's our go. And with that, I'll take any questions.
Q. 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?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. 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?
JEREMY PRUITT: You said who now?
JEREMY PRUITT: Okay. I gotcha. The guy's smart. He's tough, comes from a good family, very instinctive and wished he was on our team.
Q. 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?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. 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?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. 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?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. 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?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. 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?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. 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?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. 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?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. How much do you expect J.J. Peterson and the rest of your first recruiting class to contribute this year?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. 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?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. 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 --
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. How important is Marquez Callaway to this coming season?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. How would you assess your quarterback room with the guys you have and the addition of Keller Chryst?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. 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?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
Q. 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?
JEREMY PRUITT: 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.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach, for your time.
JEREMY PRUITT: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports