This time, Gene Stallings made the phone call. Otherwise, Jeremy Pruitt would have had no issue with reaching out to his former head coach from Pruitt’s two years playing for Stallings at the University of Alabama.
“No [it wasn’t just a congratulatory call]; Coach Stallings has checked in with me almost every week, either before the game or after the game,” Pruitt said on the heels of becoming Tennessee’s first coach since Doug Dickey in 1964 to take an unranked team on the road and beat a ranked team in his first season. “He has given me some really good advice when we have had a big win or have had tough losses. I’m very appreciative of that.
“As a first-time head coach, you can have your own ideas, which I do, but make no mistake, I’ve worked for some really good men and played for some really good coaches and [I’m fortunate] to draw on those experiences and how to handle situations. To me, if he ain’t calling me, I’m probably calling him.”
That call from Stallings, Pruitt explained Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference’s weekly coaches’ teleconference, struck at the core of why Pruitt has been in coaching at various levels since 1997.
“You know, everywhere I’ve coached, I’ve really had one goal and that was to help players get what they want,” Pruitt explained. “I think it’s why we’re in the business, in it for the players, and it gives us a great opportunity to give back to them. I know me, as a player growing up, I was very fortunate to play for a lot of good coaches that not only helped me as a football player, but helped me of the field.”
Pruitt shouldn’t expect any call this week from his former boss, Nick Saban, but Alabama’s record-setting head coach offered arguably his strongest endorsement to date of any of his former assistants in Pruitt.
“I think the guy is a really good football coach; he believes in the right stuff when it comes to players doing things the right way and making decisions to help them be successful,” Saban said. “He’s a guy who is a very bright football guy that has a lot of good experience, I think.
“He’s one of the best coaches we ever had on our staff around here. I think that’s reflected on how his team has improved this year.”
Pruitt’s Vols are 3-3 after the upset of the two-touchdown favorite Auburn Tigers last Saturday at Auburn. They host Saban’s top-ranked Crimson Tide Saturday at 3:30 inside Neyland Stadium on the CBS National “SEC Game of the Week.”
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