KNOXVILLE – Jeremy Pruitt didn’t just go around the locker room and congratulate Tennessee’s football team for saving its season.
The Vols coach also went up and down the hallways of the Anderson Training Center and the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center with his personal thanks giving following a 28-10 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
“It was a great effort by everyone in our organization,” Pruitt said.
“Our administration, our coaching staff, to the people in Thornton with our academics, our training staff, our nutrition staff, our player-development staff and our weight room staff, they were all in. They stayed the course and we got what we wanted to get done.”
Imagine a custodial worker, doing the rounds late Saturday night, suddenly getting ambushed by a handshake and back slap from the coach.
Converting a 1-4 start into five consecutive victories and a 7-5 finish to the regular season definitely said something about the people involved. Back in the locker room, the accomplishment spoke volumes about the respect and trust that was created and nurtured there.
“To do something like that, there has to be relationships,” Pruitt said. “I think our coaching staff, our players have great relationships with each other. They hung together and found a way.”
One of the most important relationships was Tennessee’s seniors, who were honored on Saturday, and the underclassmen, who will carry on in their absence following the bowl game. This turnaround wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t set an example for everyone else.
Pruitt laid out how one of the most important relationships of all played out to the team’s benefit.
“These seniors really had an attitude of ‘Coach me coach,’ ” Pruitt said. “Whatever they needed to improve, whatever they needed to do to help us get to the next step.
“To me, we have good leaders on our team, but I think it says a lot about the players on our team. It doesn’t do any good if you have good leadership, if the guys don’t want to follow the leadership. I think that says a lot about our team in itself. We had guys that had a positive impact on the people around us and we had guys that responded to their leadership. It is a good thing.”
In UT’s case, when considering the size and scope of a football team, it was a useful form of crowd control.
“It is hard when you take 100 guys and put them in a room and things aren’t going the way you want them to go,” Pruitt said. “There is all kind of noise out there and it is hard for guys to stick together. But these guys did. They did what most teams can’t do. It just says a lot about their character.”
Jennings incident: The optics aren’t good of Jauan Jennings’ cleat to the face of Vanderbilt’s Justice Shelton-Mosley. Therefore, the situation bears watching for any follow-up response by the SEC.
The incident occurred following Jennings’ tackle of Shelton-Mosley on a punt play late in Saturday’s game. The two players slid into UT’s bench and Jennings was scrambling to his feet when it happened. The play, of course, was captured on video and ESPN college football analyst D.J. Shockley described what happened as “uncalled for.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org