SEC coach: Jeremy Pruitt’s people skills will be put to test on recruiting trail

Jeremy Pruitt
Kyle Zedaker/Tennessee athletics

(This is part of a series of reports in which coaches who are promised anonymity for their responses give their assessments of Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt and the state of UT’s football program)

I used to always say I’d take all five of my official visits if I were a top-flight college football prospect. I’d take them all to “evaluate” the colleges even if I were fairly sure where I’d end up.

In truth, I’d also take the trips for the entertainment value even if I were sure where I was heading for college. I’d take four “business” trips and one more – to Hawaii. Who wouldn’t want a free trip to Hawaii, right? Since then, I’ve learned that Hawaii’s coaches are extremely picky about who they allow to take official visits to the school. After all, they only have so many and they’re not into the travel agent business.

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For a far different reason, the Vols are in the same position. First-year coach Jeremy Pruitt has said – and rightly so – that he has to recruit the same prospects that championship contenders Alabama and Georgia are recruiting. But why would a prospect pick a rebuilding project like UT instead of immediately playing for championships?

“Who really wants to visit and who really wants to be a Vol?” said a coach with vast recruiting experience in the SEC and at UT.

The key for UT’s coaches is to determine whether a prospect is good enough to help win championships and whether he has a legitimate desire to be a part of a rebuilding project. That’s what they’ll face at UT.

“You’ve got to do a great job of evaluating,” the coach said.

If Pruitt is to become an elite recruiter as a head coach, like Alabama’s Nick Saban or Georgia’s Kirby Smart, he’ll have to beat them on the recruiting trail. He may be well-suited for that. Pruitt’s approach is widely thought of as a combination of both. He’s business-like, as is Saban, and also a bit laid back, like Smart.

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Pruitt’s first job will be to beat Smart. The Vols need to get to Atlanta to play for an SEC championship and that means winning the SEC East. When asked to compare Pruitt and Smart, the former SEC coach said both have the enthusiasm to get the job done but Smart probably has a slight advantage in people skills over Pruitt.

But Pruitt certainly will have one thing going for him: player loyalty. Every time a prospect steps on campus, that recruit can expect players to have Pruitt’s back once they get to know him at UT. And it will go further than that.

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