Fulmer confident Pruitt the right man to lead Vols

April 21, 2018 GMT

KNOXVILLE — Phillip Fulmer had a good feeling about Jeremy Pruitt when the two sat down for the first time four-and-a-half months ago. Even after Fulmer hired Pruitt to be Tennessee’s next football coach, he still had his reservations.

“You never know for sure unless you’ve been around the person for a long period of time,” Fulmer said. “You just don’t know for sure. People can tell you one thing and do another, and that’s often the case.

“They say, ‘We’re going to bring these six people with us as assistant coaches’ and you think in the back of your mind, ‘If we get three of those that’d be really good.’”

Four-and-a-half months into their coach-athletic director relationship, Fulmer believes more than ever he found the right man to turn around Tennessee’s fledgling football program.

“He’s done exactly what he said he’s going to do in the interview,” Fulmer added. “He’s exactly what I thought from a detailed person, from an organized person. He brought seven guys in here in the second day. It was incredible.

“Four months into (it), I’m more sure now that we got the right guy than I was in the interview and I was really happy then. So we’re headed in the right direction.”

Fulmer has been a common observer at practice this spring, and has been there to offer advice to Pruitt as he settles into his first head coaching job. Those duties have mostly dealt with helping the former Alabama, Florida State and Georgia assistant get acclimated what it means to be a Vol.

“He’s really open to knowing about our history,” Fulmer said. “I am a good guy to tell him about it. Our traditions, our maxims, all those things that’s important to our Tennessee people. It’s the guts of what we do. That’s all really important. He does a good job with the media. I think he’s got a couple things on his plate and I just told him, ‘Do what you can, but make sure the priorities are with your football team.’”

As a coach who once took over Tennessee’s program, Fulmer is aware of the uphill battle Pruitt faces with the program. In 1992, Fulmer was named the interim head coach of a program that had gone 9-3 with a Fiesta Bowl berth the season before. Pruitt is inheriting a program coming off its first eight-loss season and the first winless season in conference play.

“When I took over it was like here,” Fulmer said, holding is hand near his chest, “and we went to here,” as he raised his hand a bit higher.

“He’s like here,” Fulmer said with his hand below his waist, “and trying to get to here,” raising his hand back above his chest.

“It’s a whole different dynamic, and it’s going to take time and a couple recruiting classes and we all want to be back in the championship mix. That’s our goal.”

What he has seen from Pruitt so far, though, leads him to believe he can do it.

“He’s got a really good staff around him. They are football coaches,” Fulmer said. “They’re not anything about fluff, he’s not anything about fluff. I’ve said all those things, and I like that. I like his black and white. He’s a good communicator. He’s not a great communicator when he doesn’t get what he wants. You work through all that. I like that he’s driven.”