Few people can match the perspective of Tommy Tuberville when it comes to football life in the Southeastern Conference across the past 25 years. So, when Tuberville joined the “3 Man Front” radio show on WJOX in Birmingham (headlined by former Auburn player and current SEC Network personality Cole Cubelic), his comments about the Tennessee athletics program, particularly football, finally finding the right footing should resonate across Rocky Top and throughout the league.
Tuberville, who led Auburn to an undefeated season in 2004 and also coached at Ole Miss, dismissed any notion of a conflict of interest with Phillip Fulmer and new coach Jeremy Pruitt earning his first head coaching opportunity.
“No (conflict), I think that was a great move by Tennessee,” Tuberville said on the show. “Every school in the conference has got to have an edge up, and I think that’s the edge up for Tennessee.
“When they hired Phillip Fulmer, he knows how to win in the conference. He brought a young coach in that’s never been a head coach; it’s going to take him a while, but Phillip is going to mentor him, he’s going to teach him the ins and outs of Tennessee, the ins and outs of Tennessee football, and if he’ll listen to him, I think Tennessee is going to be a very good football team in three or four years.”
Tuberville said he and his staff noted the onset of the decline in Tennessee football roughly a decade ago from The Plains, when the Vols’ recruiting slipped under Fulmer. The veteran coach and current TV analyst says that’s where Pruitt, with Fulmer’s guidance, must get Tennessee back to its foundation.
“They’ve got to get back to their roots in terms of how they recruit Tennessee, win in Tennessee in recruiting,” he said. “Tennessee is really growing in population and I think the high schools there are going to get much, much better and be able to turn out better athletes. And they’ve got to get back to Georgia recruiting. And that’s what happened, even Phillip will tell you that. He got away from recruiting in Georgia when we were at Auburn and they kind of got in trouble.
“I think the combination of Phillip Fulmer being athletic director and Jeremy Pruitt being the head-coach-in-training, so to speak, is a huge boost for this Tennessee football program.”
Moreover, Tuberville likened Fulmer’s ascension to the UT athletic director post — after the comedy of errors that doomed the short-lived John Currie era — to the work of Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin. Like Fulmer, Alvarez is a College Football Hall of Famer with a sterling record as the Badgers’ football coach before he accepted the A.D. position there.
Tuberville also admitted Pruitt will have to learn to deal with some meddling, but not, Tuberville said, likely to be from the UT administration.
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