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VOL. 43 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 9, 2019

Pruitt designed staff to regain respect on Rocky Top

By Rhiannon Potkey

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Derrick Ansley was coaching for the Oakland Raiders when UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt called. 

-- Photo By Tennessee Athletics/Sports.Com

Jeremy Pruitt isn’t given to making boastful proclamations. But the Tennessee football coach feels so strongly about a certain element of his program that he’s made sure to address it multiple times in the last few months.

“When you talk about teaching, recruiting, relationships, character, all the intangibles that comes with being a football coach, I truly believe that we do have the best staff in the country,” Pruitt says.

Tennessee invested millions of dollars in the offseason to hire new coaches and give Pruitt more resources to turn the program around.

He lured offensive coordinator Jim Chaney away from Georgia and defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley away from the NFL. He brought former Vol and national championship quarterback Tee Martin back to Rocky Top.

“That was one of the draws for me to come take this job. It was very glamorous because the staff did have a lot of experience and they know how to do it in this league,” Ansley explains of his move from the Oakland Raiders to UT. “They’ve done it before. They’re proven veterans and they’re good men. So that was very attractive for me when I decided to take the job.”

Although the staff had a chance to get familiar with the players during spring practice, the real fun began last week when the Vols opened fall camp. The Vols will have 28 practices before playing their season opener against Georgia State on Aug. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET at Neyland Stadium.

“For me, this is the most exciting part of the year,” Pruitt acknowledges. “To get an opportunity to take 110 young men and to grow with the coaching staff and everybody that’s involved and get a chance to create a team. Nobody knows what that team is going to be. You have to create your identity, you have to come together.”

Martin could hardly contain his excitement before the Vols took the field for the opening practice. He was “fired up” to be representing Tennessee in a coaching capacity, and had to calm himself down before meeting with the media.

“There have not been many guys in the past that have come back to coach here. I know Terry Fair just did, but for me I never thought I was going to come back and coach here,” Martin says. “The way it worked out and the timing of it was great. I am just as excited to get started as our fanbase is.”

Jim Chaney, UT's offensive coordinator, was lured away from Georiga to coach for the Vols.  

-- Photo By Tennessee Athletics/Utsports.Com

The Vols will be spending the month developing an identity and emphasizing core fundamentals. Avoiding mistakes and working to create turnovers is at the top of the to-do list.

“I’ve never been around a really good football player or a great team that didn’t have toughness. Physical, mental toughness, something that you have to train that way,” Pruitt says. “You have to do it and it has to become a habit for you. That’s something that we really need to focus on.”

Chaney has developed a reputation for being able to tailor his offenses around the strength of each team, whether it’s leaning more on the run game or spreading the field with a strong passing attack.

He’s been impressed with some of the individual talent the Vols possess, and wants to find the perfect blend to maximize efficiency and explosion.

“I’m going to force feed them a ton of offense and just see where we’re at, see how much they can learn and absorb,” Chaney adds. “I feel like the familiarity of the offense through the spring and making it through the summer, they made good strides in that regard I think. We’re about to find out. But I’m optimistic that way. It’ll be interesting to see just how much we can absorb and how much offense we’ll be able to utilize and be able to execute.”

Pruitt has praised Chaney’s football IQ, and adds Chaney gets better with age. He says Chaney’s best years are still ahead of him.

After joking that his wife would disagree with that assessment, Chaney notes: “I feel like I get more excited as the years go on. I have no idea why. I think I enjoy the relationships with the players the older I get.

“I think when you’re young, you’re trying to make a dollar and you’re trying to move through this thing. You sometimes get caught up in the business as opposed to some of the relationships that you can enjoy and cherish. I tend to enjoy that a little bit more right now than I have in the past.”

The relationships extend to other coaches in the building. The staff has enjoyed working together and challenging each other during meetings and on the practice field.

Prior connections and mutual respect among the coaches is a big reason for the instant chemistry, according to Ansley.

“The main thing is that everybody knows each other. We’ve all worked together in some capacity in the past, so it made the transition of coaching together again that much easier,” Ansley says. “We all have the same philosophies, we all coach football the same way. It’s been an easy transition coaching with people that you knew in the past.”

Regardless of pedigree, the Tennessee coaches realize being labeled the best in the country will ultimately be judged by wins and losses.

But Kevin Sherrer doesn’t argue with the unofficial preseason ranking Pruitt gives the UT coaching staff.

“There is no doubt this is,” says UT’s special teams/inside linebackers coach. “There are a lot of really good men, first off, great coaches and a lot have track records at the places they have been as recruiters and coaches, so I agree with that. It’s a good thing to sometimes hear that from your head coach.”

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