Jeremy Pruitt boldly went after the biggest, most elite athletes on the recent national signing days, first in December and again last month.
Pruitt’s gamble to instantly upgrade his first-ever head coaching roster, that of the 2018 University of Tennessee Vols’ football squad, worked well in December, but not as effectively in February.
So the multi-time finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach, has turned to other measures — first in January hiring Houston Texans strength coach Craig Fitzgerald and now snatching away highly regarded nutritionist Rachel Pfister.
A former University of Alabama nutritionist, Pfister has been on board at Rocky Top for several weeks and, per Pruitt, already is making an impact.
Pruitt has both publicly emphasized the need to develop bigger and stronger players, as well as recruit bigger and stronger players. Pfister is charged with the latter, and she’s been in Knoxville since last month.
Her charge is a difficult one as Tennessee finds itself with its third different lead nutritionist for football in the past four seasons. Butch Jones inexplicably parted ways with the esteemed Allison Maurer prior to the 2016 season and hired away Stephanie Horvath from the University of Illinois.
However, per both the official University of Tennessee athletics web site and the school’s official web site, www.Tennessee.edu, Horvath’s role at the school is unclear. Per sources, Horvath has been “reassigned from football to other sports,” but she no longer is found in the campus-wide directory.
For all the uncertainty on Rocky Top, Tennessee has seen particular turbulence in both its nutritional and strength areas inside the football program. Jones went through three strength coaches in his final three seasons and two nutritionists in his final two seasons.
Pfister is highly regarded in her field for both her work optimizing athletes’ meal options as well as her use of advanced methodologies for growing players. Pfister’s work on the “Bod Pod” has been featured nationally, as has her work with Alabama’s nation’s-best collegiate gymnastics squad.
In other potential personnel news to watch, look for Pruitt to perhaps again dip into the NFL ranks to fill another off-field role on his Volunteers’ cabinet. Campus sources indicate Pruitt will be given the opportunity to hire essentially an “assistant to the head coach,” from a football standpoint, and John Lilly, a former Georgia assistant with more recent NFL ties, has emerged as the front-runner for that spot.
For what it’s worth, Lilly (@Coach_JLilly) already follows multiple Vols’ coaches — Chris Weinke and Will Friend among them, as well as multiple players — on his Twitter account.
(You can follow John Brice on Twitter @JohnDBrice1)
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