Dan Fleser: Vols Coach Pruitt Is Keeping Up With His Team From Home

Monday, April 6, 2020 - by Dan Fleser

KNOXVILLE – Long before becoming Tennessee’s football coach, Jeremy Pruitt was working a world away as an elementary school physical education teacher in Fort Payne, Al.

He was in the northern Alabama city to coach high school football with his father. He recalled the experience during his introductory press conference on Dec. 7, 2017, with a tongue-in-cheek sense of accomplishment.

“I taught everybody from 2001-2004 how to tie his shoes in the city of Fort Payne, Al.,” he said. “I started suggesting Velcro.”

He might be drawing on that memory as he reprises the role with his own children at home.

“We have school every day,” he said. “With a 4- and a 2-year-old, school is a little different. My wife is taking charge of that. I am handling the extracurricular activities outside.”

Pruitt also is working to make sure that everything is tied down with respect to the Vols’ football program during the coronavirus pandemic. During an online teleconference last Friday, he said that staff meetings occur daily at 8 a.m. Player-related issues and recruiting calls, among other matters, are discussed.

Even with all athletic activities and organized gatherings suspended now until May 31, Tennessee still has managed to make its share of football news.

On the recruiting front, the Vols picked up a pair of commitments last month for its class of 2021. Running back Jaylen Wright from Durham, N.C., and wide receiver Walker Merrill from Brentwood High in suburban Nashville both chose UT. Wright was the North Carolina state champion in the 55-meter dash and has run the 100 in 10.84 seconds. He plans to run track along with playing football at Tennessee.

Tennessee also lost Craig Fitzgerald, who was the director of football sports performance. He left for a strength & conditioning position with the NFL’s New York Giants.

In the meantime, Pruitt said that his first priority for UT’s players is health and wellness, while the second is academics.

That latter objective presents some potential challenges as Tennessee’s students are taking classes online to finish the spring semester.

“We know exactly what they are supposed to get done every day academically,” Pruitt said. “We follow up and make sure there aren’t any issues because we have guys all over the country.

“When people start working from home, sometimes there’s only one computer in the household. Being able to access that and being able to get what they need to get done. Maybe some guys, their internet service is not as good. So just making sure that we are on top of it, that we are proactive and not reactive in the academic piece.”

While the primary health concerns involve guarding against the coronavirus, Tennessee also has conventional injuries that need tending. The recovery process could be impacted by the prevailing circumstances. Offensive tackle Wanya Morris (hip) and linebacker Quavaris Crouch (shoulder) both underwent surgery after the season.

“Some of the guys are still in Knoxville and they are able to do (rehab),” Pruitt said. “Some of them have to do it FaceTime or whatever the circumstance is. Some cities are locked down now and they don’t have the resources to get some rehab.

“That’s something that we have really been working hard to make sure that our guys are going to be well whenever they come back, whenever that is.”

* * *

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 danfleser3@gmail.com.

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