Jeremy Pruitt discusses job security with Tennessee football and SEC coaching turnover
Jeremy Pruitt says he’s focused on preparing his Tennessee football team for its regular-season finale against No. 5 Texas A&M, not his job security.
Three SEC football coaches have been fired this season, with Auburn’s Gus Malzahn joining the list Sunday. In November, South Carolina fired Will Mushcamp and Vanderbilt fired Derek Mason.
Pruitt’s career record in three seasons at Tennessee is 16-18, but he steadied his footing with a 42-17 victory over winless Vanderbilt on Saturday, snapping the Vols’ six-game losing streak.
RELATED:Jeremy Pruitt beat Vanderbilt. Your move, Phillip Fulmer.
“We’ve been focusing on our every day at practice, the teams that we’re playing,” said Pruitt, whose Vols (3-6) will aim to end the College Football Playoff hopes of the Aggies (7-1) on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN) at Neyland Stadium. “All of that stuff is always at the end of the season, so we’ve just been working hard to be the best that we can possibly be.”
Tennessee athletics director Philip Fulmer hired Pruitt in December 2017, and, in September, he awarded Pruitt with a two-year contract extension, a raise scheduled to begin in 2021 and an increased buyout. If Tennessee fired Pruitt, he'd be owed a $12.8 million buyout in monthly installments throughout the duration of his contract, which runs through Jan. 31, 2026.
Fulmer offered generally supportive comments of Pruitt on the “Vol Calls” radio show on the Vol Network on Dec. 2, and he preached a message of patience to a frustrated fan base.
But he didn’t offer any assurances about Pruitt’s future, and Fulmer otherwise hasn’t publicly addressed this football season or Pruitt’s status.
Malzhan never had a losing record in eight seasons at Auburn, but the program had been treading water the past couple of seasons. Malzahn's Auburn record was 68-35. Muschamp went 28-30 in five seasons at South Carolina, while Mason was 27-55 in seven seasons at Vanderbilt.
Malzahn is owed a whopping $21.45 million buyout, while Muschamp's buyout is reportedly more than $15 million.
"I got a lot of respect for all three of those men and coaching against them, getting to know them while I've coached in this league," Pruitt said. "I think they've done a phenomenal job at the places that they've been.
"Really, the rough part on this, when there's a coaching change, whether it's somebody leaving or somebody getting another opportunity, the people that suffer are the student-athletes, because you build the relationships recruiting them to come to a certain school. I've had it both ways. We've been fired before, and we've got opportunities, before. The worst part of it is, in either scenario, is the people that you have created these relationships with, built a bond with to recruit them to come to a certain school. That's the people that suffer in all this."
Latest on Tennessee’s quarterback situation
Pruitt intends to stick with the plan of splitting snaps between Harrison Bailey and J.T Shrout against Texas A&M.
Bailey has started each of the past two games, while Shrout has played in those games off the bench. That marked a shakeup of UT’s quarterback depth chart after fifth-year senior Jarrett Guarantano started the season’s first seven games but couldn’t get the offense rolling.
“We got two guys right now that are really competing hard in practice in J.T. and Harrison,” Pruitt said. “We’re giving them the same amount of reps. I’ve told both of them, we’re going to look at these last three games and just give them kind of the same opportunity.”
Bailey was 14-of-18 for 207 yards and two touchdowns against Vanderbilt, while Shrout was 6-of-13 for 90 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
“I thought both guys operated and played pretty well,” Pruitt said. “They’re going to continue to improve, and we’re going to play both of them. The way this season is, it’s a great opportunity to know what we got.”
Vols injury report
Starting right guard Cade Mays was sidelined from Saturday’s game with a lower leg injury, and Jerome Carvin started in his place. Mays is questionable for the game against the Aggies.
“Cade will be day to day,” Pruitt said.
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.