There was no John Candy or Steve Martin moment. No Plains, Trains and Automobiles talk. No talk about players who haven’t flown on an airplane. Or visited outer space, for that matter.
Jeremy Pruitt, with a far deeper microscope than fellow first-time head man Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State, handled himself sublimely across the past week.
He answered Atlanta during the carnival-like Southeastern Conference Media Days and delivered on the home front Monday, dismissing a redshirt-freshman faced with two charges from an inexcusable alleged domestic violence incident.
Mostly, Pruitt emphasized what he and his inaugural Vols’ coaching staff must do on Rocky Top rather than focusing on all that has not been done. After all, orange-blood programs with the historical magnitude of the University of Tennessee do not typically become available because all is right in a program.
Pruitt knows championship football from an assistant coach’s perspective at two different national powerhouses and, now somewhat infamously revealed, also knows attempting to push a program to a championship level comes with more than a squeeze of discomfort. Perhaps sometimes a loud bark isn’t ready for the requisite bite.
“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,” Pruitt said at SEC Media Days. “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.”
Graduating players is paramount, but it typically comes in a distant second behind winning in order to sustain longevity atop a program. Pruitt’s former boss, college czar Nick Saban, now boasts a program unparalleled nationally in both on-field and classroom success, posting a top-15 academic progress report ranking and earning the most recent AFCA Academic Achievement Award.
Pruitt’s early classroom returns are strong; he relentlessly deploys staffers to classroom attendance checks and conjures grueling punishments for those who skip. Sets the tone.
So, too, does Pruitt’s new strength and conditioning program under Craig Fitzgerald. Per folks on campus, this is where Tennessee already is positioning its players for their greatest strides moving into the 2018 season.
Last year’s summer prep included three days per week of conditioning and football work. This summer? Fitz’s crew is working the Vols five times per week. And the program includes significant mental and physical work.
Players now face a blend of intense cardio that oftentimes leads into rigorous lifting sessions.
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