Jeremy Pruitt has played it by the book, but he went off script in his most recent move. Pruitt took his biggest gamble to date when he allowed wide receiver Jauan Jennings to return to Tennessee’s roster.
You remember Jennings, right? He’s the player who often was absent from the team during practices and games when he was injured, then showed up at end-of-the-season practice healthy and demanding to play quarterback (which he hadn’t played since high school) before being asked to leave the practice field, which prompted a profanity-laced tirade on social media against UT’s then-coaching staff.
Understandably, he was dismissed. But he was dismissed by interim coach Brady Hoke and then-athletic director John Currie, who later was relieved of his duties.
The argument to bring back Jennings is strong: He basically was dismissed by a substitute teacher with the backing of a weak principal. Also, there’s a chance to help the young man.
But the real reason Jennings is back is that he’s UT’s best receiver and it’s a rather shallow position group. Don’t kid yourself: Jennings’ ability is what is giving him a second chance.
Allowing Jennings to return is fraught with risk. Pruitt’s first goal is to restore chemistry and team discipline. Jennings could negatively alter both. And by reinstating Jennings, Pruitt is sending a message that if you’re good enough at football, you don’t have to be good at life to be a Vol.
Pruitt knows all of this and has decided to trust Jennings, perhaps out of desperation – even though Pruitt shouldn’t be desperate. If Pruitt wins six games this season, most will see it as a positive sign. With the Vols at rock bottom, Pruitt has time to turn the Vols around before fans get restless. If he’s successful, his best seasons will come when Jennings is gone.
Pruitt certainly is more informed about Jennings’ emotional stability than any media member. In addition, one would think athletic director Phillip Fulmer would have to sign off on any reinstatement. Both must believe Jennings will walk the straight and narrow from this point.
It’s certainly a precarious position to be in for both. Pruitt needs to win to keep his job long-term; Fulmer needs Pruitt to succeed to show UT’s fan base that he will be a successful athletic director. I’m not jealous of either for having to make such a decision.
It’s not a move I would have made, but I certainly understand it. Jennings won’t participate in spring practice because he recently had arthroscopic knee surgery. Presumably, he’ll still be at practices instead of handling things as he did when he was injured last fall. If not, Pruitt and Fulmer may wish they had just played it by the book.
(You can follow Dave Hooker on Twitter @TheDaveHooker)
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