Tennessee’s 34-7 football loss to Kentucky on Saturday was bewildering in its nature and scope. The immediate fallout has done little to change the narrative.
If anything, things got even weirder. After an offensive meltdown that featured almost as many turnovers (four) as points (seven), UT’s strongest first response was to fire its defensive line coach on Sunday.
And Jimmy Brumbaugh was only hired in February.
UT coach Jeremy Pruitt addressed the personnel move on Monday during his first weekly press conference via Zoom, saying, among other things, that Brumbaugh “worked his tail off.”
On any other day, the comment would’ve been construed as an endorsement.
“Sometimes from a philosophical standpoint, things are just not a fit, and it just didn’t work for us, so I decided to do that,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt, who has a background in coaching defense, will coach the defensive line for the season’s duration. He said that he will be helped by graduate assistants and added, “We’ll be fine.”
“If it’s not working out, it’s better just to do it now,” Pruitt said of the coaching move.
Pruitt had criticized the defensive line’s play during the preseason. The position group made the checklist of gripes following Saturday’s loss as well.
Brumbaugh, who also was serving as co-defensive coordinator, will be owed the remainder of his salary, which totals more than $830,000.
With the firing, the defensive line moves up UT’s laundry list of concerns. The position group finished last year as a bright spot after steady improvement throughout the season.
Conversely, the trajectory of the quarterbacks wasn’t as steady. The Vols were making changes behind center right through the 23-22 comeback victory over Indiana in the Gator Bowl. They were back at it against Kentucky, using Jarrett Guarantano, J.T. Shrout and Harrison Bailey.
This wasn’t supposed to happen, however. Starter Guarantano and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had a year’s worth of experience working together. Furthermore, the offensive line previewed as a team strength. Running backs Ty Chandler and Eric Gray also qualified as major assets. Even the exodus of wide receivers has been diminished by the early season play of Josh Palmer and Brandon Johnson.
It’s alarming to again be uncertain about who’s Tennessee’s best option at quarterback or whether there is a best option. A visit from Alabama on Saturday (TV: CBS, 3:30 p.m.) only adds to the yikes factor. The picture probably won’t be any clearer a week from now. If anything, it could be more jumbled.
Arguing on Guarantano’s behalf gets harder with each turnover. He’s had a hand in six the past two games. But Pruitt never fails to consider the big picture when critiquing the redshirt senior and that perspective, first and foremost, is his responsibility. And the picture got bigger with an assistant coach getting fired despite working his tail off.
In reflecting on Saturday’s game, Pruitt said, “I think everybody on our football team and in our organization all could have done better, starting with me.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at email@example.com.