KNOXVILLE – Chris Rumph dropped an interesting observation regarding his boss into a conversation with the media toward the end of Tennessee’s spring football practice.
The Vols co-defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach said that he’s seeing a calmer version of Jeremy Pruitt in his second year as head coach.
“I know that sounds kind of crazy,” Rumph said, “but I see a calmer guy.”
From a media standpoint, Pruitt was more accommodating this spring.
All of the assistant coaches who comprise his revamped coaching staff were made available for interviews at some point.
The same held true for the players. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano appeared twice for interviews during last season – after victories over Auburn and Kentucky. The redshirt junior made three appearances this spring. He was among several players who were made available following the Orange & White Game. No players were interviewed after last season’s spring game.
The tone of Pruitt’s appearance following the Orange & White Game was more civil than last year as well.
Last year, he rebuked the fan base over an announced crowd of 65,098 by saying “I think we all need to look in the mirror and see who we want to be.” This year’s announced attendance was only 50,967. Yet he lauded the atmosphere and the “positive vibes.”
“You can feel our fan base and there was a lot of energy out there today,” he said.
This evidence supports Rumph’s contention. Still, my first inclination was to wince when he offered his characterization of Pruitt and wonder whether Rumph ever again will be made available. If not, Rumph made the most of his opportunity, offering context and more observation to support his assessment.
“This is my opinion, sometimes when guys come from being a coordinator to head coach, I think they try to do everything,” Rumph said. “They want everything to run the right way and sometimes they get here and get spread thin.
“But I think this year, I’ve seen a confidence in the staff. I think I see a confidence in the players. I see a star emerging before my eyes.”
Pruitt came to UT from Alabama, where he had served a third tour of duty under Nick Saban, who isn’t the picture of serenity. Pruitt had spent the previous two seasons as defensive coordinator, running Saban’s defense. That’s the equivalent of putting your head in the lion’s mouth as it roars.
If Pruitt indeed is calmer, the greatest source of the transformation likely is the coaching staff. Although the players have made strides in terms of understanding strategy and expectations, there’s still considerable coaching to be done with this team.
Pruitt seems particularly impressed with new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and his command of the offense. It was a recurring theme throughout the spring.
That said, the makeover of the defensive staff is equally noteworthy. Pruitt reshuffled responsibilities and handed off the play calling to Derrick Ansley, who’s a first-year lead coordinator.
“I think it shows that he trusts me and it shows me that he has the same kind of philosophy as me,” Ansley said during the spring. “This is coach Pruitt’s defense. I am just going to try and get it the way he wants it.”
Rumph applauded how Ansley is approaching his opportunity and how Kevin Sherrer, a co-defensive coordinator last season, has dealt with being reassigned to special teams coordinator.
Their handling of the situation says something about them. According to Rumph, it doesn’t say that they’re getting calmer too.
“Oh no, we’re the bullies out there,” Rumph said. “That’s our job to get out there and bite on (the players) a little bit.”
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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 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org