Tennessee Chancellor Dr. Beverly Davenport
“Well it’s great to see all of you again. It hasn’t even been a week since I was here introducing our Athletic Director, Phillip Fulmer, and I have to tell you, after working with him for a week, Phillip Fulmer is the most dedicated Volunteer I think I have ever met.
“His wife Vicky just told me that this is his calling. He loves this university, and I’ll tell you, I’ve seen that this week. Vicky, I want to thank you, your daughters, and your grandchildren for giving him back to us yet again in another capacity, so thank you so much, Phillip.
“Today, as we all know, he has brought us a new football coach. I know it’s something you all have been waiting for, and I’m sure couldn’t be happier to be delivering this news. We’ve been working really, really hard this week. The last several days have been intense, and I want to tell you again, Phillip Fulmer has been full-in, and he has been a terrific partner. He has worked tirelessly to find our new coach for this historic football program, and I am absolutely confident that Jeremy Pruitt is that person for this program at this time.
“Jeremy, I want to thank you. Thank you for choosing the University of Tennessee. Thank you for taking on this very important mantle of our program. We welcome you, and we welcome Casey. We welcome your son, Ridge, your son, Jayse, and your baby, who couldn’t be here today. We’re sorry he couldn’t make it, but we certainly understand that the little one would probably want to be where he is.
“We’re really excited that you’re going to be a part of this Volunteer family, and I promise you, you’re going to love it. I think you’re going to quickly see how passionate our fans are and how warm and welcoming they are. This university, this city, this state, and I think the eyes of the nation are looking at us, too. Are all ready to welcome you. I can see that you’ve already figured out that we love orange. They had an array of ties for you to pick out. You’ll hear this very quickly, and that color is Pantone 151. I might have on 152 today, but we love our orange. We talk about wearing it boldly and wearing it proudly and nearly every day. Casey, get ready. You’ll need some new orange in your wardrobe.
“I met Jeremy before today, and he told me that he started his career in a kindergarten to third-grade classroom, and that really clinched it for me. I knew he was a teacher, and I knew that at the heart of any great teacher was the concern for our students’ success, and I so appreciate that, Jeremy. But make no bones about it, he told me he wanted to win championships. I told him, ‘Make no bones about it, Tennessee expects you to.’
“I told Phillip from the start, find us the best person for the University of Tennessee football program. And I truly believe he has done his job. I want to thank you again, Phillip, for bringing Jeremy to Rocky Top. Now I want to turn the podium to (Phillip) to tell you a little more about our head football coach. I don’t think he needs an introduction, so without any more… our Athletic Director of the University of Tennessee, Phillip Fulmer.”
Tennessee Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer
“Thank you, Dr. Davenport, and thanks everyone for being here. It has been really great to work with Dr. Davenport this week. When I began the process, I had gotten to know the Chancellor a little bit in passing and in the interview, but having the opportunity to really work closely with her over the last six days, I’ve learned that she is all in for our Tennessee Volunteers. She was a great resource for me, and asked me tough questions, to be sure we got the right person for the university. She cares about the University of Tennessee, and I saw that firsthand these past few days.
“I’ve spent five exciting days interviewing outstanding men to be our new football coach. I interviewed head coaches, and coordinators with both offensive and defensive backgrounds. My charge from the Chancellor—and my obligation to our alumni and our great fans—and especially to our former and future players who have or will pour their hearts into this program, was to go find the best coach to get our proud program back to the level of its championship tradition.
“We will welcome Coach Pruitt shortly, but as Dr. Davenport did, I want to thank the lady behind the man, Casey Pruitt, and their sons Ridge, Jayse and young Flynt, who is at home.
“Coach Pruitt’s reputation precedes him. His work ethic, coaching talents, his recruiting abilities, and his ability to motivate his athletes are all fantastic. He is a teacher, and he changes lives. He is a person of integrity, and he is a great fit for our Tennessee family.
“Jeremy has been part of four national championships at two different schools. He has coached some of the best and brightest players to play the game of football. Alongside some of the best coaches in the game, he has learned his skill well.
“As I got to know Jeremy, his energy and his personality was infectious. As you get to know him, I think you will agree.
“Now I would like to introduce you to Jeremy Pruitt, the head football coach of the University of Tennessee.
Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt
“The first thing I want to say is how honored and humbled I am to be recognized as the head football coach at the University of Tennessee. When you talk about tradition, I grew up in a small town in North Alabama on the Tennessee River, so I grew up knowing all about the University of Tennessee. Running through the T, Smokey, the great teams that Coach Neyland, Coach Dickey, Coach Majors and Coach Fulmer put on the field. There was a time and place that this university was feared among the rest of the SEC. My goal as the head football coach at the University of Tennessee is to get us back to that point.
“I want to say thank you to Chancellor Davenport. Obviously as you can see, with her personality, one of the first things I thought when I sat down with her in the room was not only can you recruit to her, she can recruit for you. I’m excited about the first weekend that we have to get our student-athletes in here, and hopefully we can talk her into being a recruiter for us because I think she would sign a bunch of them.
“Dr. Joe (DiPietro), thank you for the opportunity. Coach Fulmer, it’s very rare for a first time head football coach that you get an opportunity to work with a boss that has not only done what Coach Fulmer has done, he’s done it at the place that you’re about to do it. I know one of the first things when you talk about hiring a coordinator as head coach – whether it’s an offensive or defensive coordinator – the question is, you’ve never been a head coach. Well guess what, you’re not going to be one until you get an opportunity. Thank you for giving me this opportunity, and I’ll probably be knocking on your door.
“Our goal. What kind of football team do we want to have here? My vision for our football team is we want to be a big, fast, dominating, aggressive, relentless football team that nobody in the SEC wants to play. That’s my goal. How do we get there? It starts in recruiting. We started it today, first of all, by recruiting the student-athletes on our football team. These guys realize that we want to change the culture, they’re hungry and they’re excited. I met with the entire team, and I actually had to turn guys away because they’ve been waiting outside my door all day. So these guys are ready to get started and I’m excited about it.
“What’s everybody else’s role? It starts with positive energy. It starts with everybody that touches the University of Tennessee. From the employees, to the fans, the boosters and especially, the former players. We all have to be positive, we all have to be pulled in one direction, and if we do that and we’re all in, we’re going to get what we want.
“Ownership. Everybody in this organization has different roles. We have to own our role. So whatever your role is in the organization, let’s get ready to make Tennessee attractive to the student-athletes. The first thing that we’re going to do is we’re going to put together a staff. The thing that I’m looking for, No. 1 is good people. There’s no substitute for good people. The next thing I’m looking for is teachers. In this day and time, we have to coach everything with our guys. We’re going to coach them how to go to class, how to introduce themselves to their professors in their classes, because I think that’s important. We’re going to coach them where to sit in the classroom. How to take notes. We’re going to coach them on the field, and we’re going to coach them in everything they need to do here at the university. The staff needs to have guys that have leadership ability. We’re going to do that. They’re going to be good recruiters, and they’re going to be loyal to the University of Tennessee.
“Recruiting. It’s the lifeblood of any organization. We’re going to start right here in this state. And we’re going to start from Knoxville and work our way out. This is going to be our state. We’re going to go out and create relationships, because that’s what it’s all about, this is still a people business. And we’re going to do it and start as soon as this meeting is over with. So I’m probably going to be short, so that I can get to work.
“To me it’s all about the student-athletes. The type of student-athletes that we’re recruiting here, the first thing is, I want guys who want a degree. That’s important to me. We want student-athletes who want a degree, we want guys that have a plan. What do they want to major in? We know that we have the resources here to help anybody achieve their goals. Because at the end of the day, we have to figure out what they want, and how we can help them get there. We want guys who want to develop and be the best football players on the field. With the staff that we’re going to hire, whether it’s a strength staff or support staff, we’re going to find ways to help these guys achieve their goals.
“Expectations. I know everyone in this room is excited. I’m going to tell you what my expectations are. You’re expectations are going to be near what mine are. My expectation is to win every game that we play. That is the expectation that I have. I am a firm believer that our players are going to take on the personality of their head coach. We are going to go mix it up and find the best players that are the best fit for our university. VFL is a name brand. We are going to recruit to that. Offensively, we have to be able to create balance. We want to be able to run the football when we want to run it. It starts with dominating the line of scrimmage. It’s not a secret. If you want to be successful in this league, you have to be able to dominate up front. That’s mental and physical toughness. We want to create explosive plays in the pass game. That starts with being able to run the football. We want to create an aggressive style of defense, where we dictate what the offense does. We aren’t going to sit back on our heels. We aren’t going to play back off of wide receivers. We are going to walk up to the line of scrimmage and challenge our opponents. Every inch that the other team gets is going to be challenged.
“I got in this business for the kids. Chancellor Davenport talked about how I was a kindergarten through third grade PE teacher. I did it for three years. I told her during my interview that I taught everyone through 2001-2004 how to tie their shoes in the city of Fort Payne. I also told her that I started suggesting Velcro.
“I just looked down at my notes, and I did this the last time I talked in public, but I didn’t thank my wife. I thanked everyone in the building, but I didn’t thank my wife. I’m going to start back to that point or I will forget again. I want to thank Casey, Jayse, Ridge and Flynt, who is obviously not here. The reason I thought about it was the question, ‘why did I get in the business?’ I got in the business because of my dad. He was a high school coach and it was the impact that he and my mother had in the community that they live in today. He was the head football coach there for 26 years. I saw the impact that they had on the community. I knew at a very young age, that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be like my dad. Thank you for inspiring me. Without you all, I would not be standing here today.
“Here is why I came. I want to challenge everyone that is associated with the University of Tennessee. I’m going to tell you this, you didn’t draft me. I chose to be here. I told the players today that they chose to sign with the University of Tennessee. With what we want and where we want to go, we are talking about championships. Instead of us talking about what we want, let’s talk about how to get there. It’s going to take everyone that is associated with this university. Everyone from the people that work in administration, to the people that work in maintenance. How do we get there? It’s about positive energy. It’s about being all in. When people come to this campus, it has to be contagious. It has to get them to think that they want to be a part of it. That’s what it starts with. When we get on the road recruiting, everyone is going to be excited. My goal is five years from now when I stand back up here, is for everyone to still be this excited. That’s my goal. I’m challenging everybody who is associated with this university. Let’s get our hands out of our pockets. Let’s roll our sleeves up. Let’s get ready to get in the streets with everyone else in the SEC. That’s what we have to do to be successful. If we want to get what we want, we have to outwork everyone. Let’s not talk about it. Let’s go do it. It starts today. Everyone associated with it, let’s get ready to go get what we want.”
On his impression of Tennessee and what needs to change to get the program where it needs to be:
“I’m a firm believer that you don’t look in the rearview mirror. There is nothing that I can do about what has happened here in the past. It will have no effect on what happens here in the future. I started work here today, so I’m looking this way (forward). I’m looking this way (forward) with our student athletes. Nothing that happened here last year is going to affect what happens here in the future. Our guys are going to understand that. We are focused on what it is going to take for us to have success. We laid out a plan today. When I was talking to our guys and I saw their legs start shaking, I knew we had them. When they were sitting on the edge of their seat, I knew we had them. I think our guys are pretty excited. Now we have to take it one day at a time. My first challenge for them was this: Finals Week. If they have a 65 in a class, let’s find a way to get it to a 70. If they have an 88 in a class, let’s find a way to get it to a 91. Let’s find a way to finish. If you want to have success in this conference you have to learn how to finish. That goes for the classroom, the football field and with everything that they do.”
On if he is going to coach Alabama’s playoff game and how he will balance the two jobs:
“I’m going to go back to why I got into this business. I am in this business for the kids. I work for the University of Tennessee, and I am all in for the university. Until the dead period, we are going to recruit. I am going to work as the head football coach of Tennessee and we are going to do the best we can to start going in the right direction. I also have a commitment to the kids whose homes I sat in with their parents and recruited them to go to the University of Alabama. Coach Saban has been wonderful to me. I would not be here today without his help, so I am going to go back as soon as dead period starts and coach those kids. At the end of the day, it’s about those guys. Those kids are the reason we’re here. I am going to go back and finish, and then I’ll be back here starting.”
On the experience of his potential staff:
“The first thing we’re going to do is we are going to take our time. We are going to find the right fit for the University of Tennessee. We are going to find people of integrity, good teachers, people who are loyal and people who can recruit. I don’t think it matters if you’re from Tennessee, Alaska or California. The name brand at the University of Tennessee sells itself. You just have to be willing to get out there and sell it.”
On who he can look up to as a head coach:
“Coach Fulmer’s office isn’t very far from mine. My dad has been a head coach for I don’t know how long, and he still is. I’ve had the opportunity to work for Nick Saban for eight years. I’ve worked two years for Mark Richt and one year for Jimbo Fisher. All of those guys will probably be in the Hall of Fame. Coach (Fulmer) already is. I work for the men who can help prepare me for the day-to-day operations.”
On the process of appointing his staff:
“We are going to take our time. We are going to choose the right guys who are the right fit. We’re not going to talk about any names, but that is what we are going to do.”
On his role as the head coach and how involved he will be with the defense:
“It’s important as a head coach to be involved in all the day-to-day operations whether it be the weight room, nutrition or academics. My name will be on this program. If my name is on it, I am all in. Everything is going to go through me. On Saturdays, we’re going to know when it’s fourth and one at the 32-yard line. Not only are we going to know whether or not we’re going to go for it because we have already talked about it, we are going to know what play we are going to run. It’s the same deal in the kicking game. When (the opposing team) scores a touchdown and kicks it off to us, we’re going to know what kind of return we are going to have. We are going to go through that, but I am going to be involved in everything.”
On the attributes he attained from Nick Saban and Gene Stallings:
“Coach Stallings used to say that the most important thing for a defensive player is his eyes. If you run four-five and you’re running in the wrong direction, you’re getting away from the ball carrier really quickly. I’ve learned many things from Coach Saban. I started from ground zero his first year at Alabama, and I’ve worked for him in three different capacities. There has been a lot of things that I have been exposed to through all of the guys I’ve worked for. I’ve learned as much from my dad as I have from any of them.”
On his journey from an elementary school teacher to Tennessee football’s head coach:
“Like I said, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be like my dad. I wanted to have a positive impact on the people in our community. I wanted to be a high school football coach. It’s interesting when you surround yourself with good people. The one thing I’ve always done, I’ve had an opportunity to work for good people. We’ve had success. I’m a believer that if you do your job, keep working and don’t worry about the next job and do a good job at the job you’ve got, good things happen. I’m very thankful that I have an opportunity to stand here today. For me being a high school football coach, I think this should inspire high school coaches across the country. If you do a good job and you keep working, you have an opportunity to move up. I’m excited to get in this state and meet some of these guys out there in the state and recruit some places that I haven’t recruited before and to sell the University of Tennessee.”
On processing what has happened:
“In this business if you stop, everybody is going to go right by you. I just figure out what I need to do day by day. I’ve been in organizations where the role has been defined. Your role is defined. You do your job and that’s the plan we’ll have here. We’ll define the role for everybody in our organization and just do our job every single day. No, I have not stepped back and looked at it.”
On Tennessee’s defense in the future:
“I think it’s important that you play the best personnel that you have. If for instance offensively, you have three good tight ends, it’s pretty foolish to put two of them on the bench. It’s the same thing when you’re playing defensive football. If you’ve got two really good linebackers and five really good defensive linemen, then we probably need to be playing those five defensive linemen and those two really good linebackers. I think that’s part of it, especially with me having a high school background. There’s some years that the three-technique weighs 300 pounds and there’s some years that he weighs 150, but I’m going to tell you that in Rainsville, Alabama, they want to win regardless. You have to find a way to be adaptable, be flexible and that’s what we’ll do.”
On his first impression of the team after meeting with them:
“The guys were on the edge of their seats. They actually all had notebooks and pens in their hand and were taking notes. I’m excited about our football team. I’m excited to get to know them. To me, that’s what it’s all about. For a first impression for them to me, I’m excited to coach these guys.”
On when he realized he wanted to be a college coach:
“I really thought that I wanted to be a football coach probably when I was three years old. My dad was dragging me around to the fieldhouse all the time so I went around with him. There was a time when I was six or seven that I really wanted to not be a football coach. Dad was having a losing record that year and we’re sitting in there after a ball game and all the coaches are sitting there talking. For whatever reason that night, he kept running the same play over and over on offense and it didn’t have much success. They’re over there as coaches do. They sit in there and try to figure out what they could have done differently and I’m just sitting over there in the corner. I said, ‘I tell you what, if you had run that play one more time we might have won.’ The next thing I know, he had his belt off dragging me out the fieldhouse, so I thought I might try to get out of the profession that night.”
On recruiting for the early signing period coming up later this month:
“This early signing period is unprecedented, so everybody is trying to figure it out. There’s a lot of different angles to it because you don’t have to sign, you can sign, if you’re a mid-year recruit you could go either way. I think it’s important that once we get our staff together that number one, we identify who fits at the University of Tennessee. That’s important. Then we’ve got to get in front of them and do the best job that we can do to convince them to come to the University of Tennessee.
“One thing that I’ve figured out in recruiting is you worry about the ones that you get, you don’t worry about the ones you don’t. That’s the most important, so that’s what we’ll do. We’ll target, we’ll have critical factors at every position. For instance, at defensive back we’re going to look for guys that have size, speed, they can play the ball in the deep part of the field, they can open their hips and tackle, they’ve got the ability to play man-to-man. Every position we’ll have critical factors. The next thing you’ve got to go to is, what’s their intangibles? Are they leaders? Are they dependable? Do they have any kind of issues? Because you’ve kind of got to go through that and make sure. So, I want to make sure in the next 10 days that we don’t sign somebody that doesn’t fit that. I’d rather wait and find a guy that we know for sure fits what we’re looking for here. So, I’m going to tell you right now, don’t get all out of whack at this early signing period if you look out there. I don’t even know what we have got committed. We’ll talk about it when we get here. I’ve been doing other things today, but we’ll figure it out. Don’t you worry, we’ll figure it out. And again, worry about the ones we get, not the ones we don’t.”
On if he thinks the program can get back to winning at a high level soon:
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we could get there. I can tell you that right now. Everywhere I’ve ever coached we’ve had an opportunity to have success and I believe we will have success here. That’s our goal. Our goal is to do this. We want to get ready to dominate our opponent every day. Right now, who’s our opponent? Our guys need to go look in the mirror because that’s our opponent right now. But I’m going to tell you something, Coach Fulmer made a statement to me about – I think he said there’s nine states we border – well the first thing we need to do is we need to get ready to dominate the states that border us. That’s the first thing we need to do, we need to do it every day. And there’s a couple of states that don’t border us that we need to get ready to dominate too. That’s going to be our goal moving forward.”
Tennessee Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer
On how Coach Pruitt convinced him that he wanted to be at Tennessee:
“As I went through the process, I don’t think there was anybody I talked to that didn’t want to be at Tennessee and want this opportunity. His energy and his enthusiasm and his background and his intensity appeal to me greatly. Not to say that all the other candidates didn’t as well, but you can see and feel his passion for what he does. He cares about young people. Today with the team he talked about their academics. He didn’t mention spring practice, didn’t mention the fall, he talked about their academics and their character. Those things appeal to me and Dr. Davenport and everybody who’s involved.”
On what the last few days have been like and if he sees a young version of himself in Coach Pruitt:
“I hope he does as well or better. Certainly, I’m there to support him as Doug Dickey was for me. I told Dr. Davenport, I’ve seen when things are at its absolute best here. Where everybody communicates, where everybody trusts each other. When things are tough that’s when it’s most important. And I’ve seen it when it hasn’t been very good. It’s a cultural thing and he’s a guy that can lead his football team. It’s up to us to be leaders on our campus. Everybody pulling together – he said it – faculty, administration, the maintenance folks, everybody pulling in the same direction so that you can have success. Fans, boosters, everybody pull together. It’s not going to be perfect all the time, but you’ve got a lot better chance to do well when you’re pulling together than you do when you’re pulling apart.”
On if Pruitt was on the radar before the search began and the timeline of the week:
“I think Jeremy has been on a lot of radars around. He is a young guy who is coming fast if you look at his pedigree and who he has coached with and what he has achieved. You go through the process of interviews and background checks, and you are trying to check all the boxes to make the right hire. He passed them on all accounts. He expects to do well. You have to define well. We have a lot of work to do, starting with finals and finishing up this recruiting class. We have some guys who are probably looking at pro football. We have to help them decide to stay or go. There is not a day that should go by where we aren’t making progress towards our goal of being one of the best football and athletic programs in the country. As far as me, I am looking forward to spending time with Rick Barnes and Holly Warlick and all the other coaches who mean so much to this university. All of the sports are important, but as we all know, football is the engine that drives the train. I like my chances with this coach.”
On if he was hesitant about Pruitt coaching at Alabama during the playoffs:
“I think it’s a plus for the University of Tennessee to have a coach in a semifinal game and possibly the national championship, especially with the exposure that will come from that. People understand that he is a leader, and without that, he probably wouldn’t be where he is. We know what great leadership looks like here because we have had it in the past. Now, we it again.”
On the similarities to hiring Pruitt compared to recruiting players when he was a coach:
“My charge was to find the best coach that was out there, and that was what we went to work to do. It was similar. It was exciting and fun. It was exhausting, but I thought it was really fun to work through this. It would have been easier to make a decision early or went with a gut feeling, but you want to continue to look it over. I have always been a grinder. You always want to get to a place where you can have conviction. When we got there, we got it done pretty quick.”
On his advice to Pruitt on making the transition from coordinator to head coach:
“He has been in a lot of roles. I think that is important. In my career, I was allowed to do a lot of roles like assistant head coach, so I understood the bigger picture. Being a defensive coordinator, he’s not going to have any problem walking into an offensive staff room and understanding what they are trying to do. It would have been vice versa if we had hired an offensive coach. To be able to communicate that and motivate people to go the direction you want to go, that takes a special trait. Guys like Jeremy and the others that I interviewed have that special trait to achieve the communication and trust that they need to move what they are trying to do forward.”
On his expectations for the fan’s response:
“We appreciate our fans and their passion. We are very fortunate and blessed to be at a university that has passionate fans.”
On picking a defensive coach:
“I interviewed offensive coaches as well. I think that six of the teams who beat us last year in the conference had head coaches who were defensive coordinators before being a head coach. There is an intensity, passion and toughness that comes from playing defense in this league. I know what that looks like. The line of scrimmage gives you the best opportunity to win in this league, whether you are running the spread, one back or two backs or whatever formation you are in. If you’re not physical or tough, you are going to have a hard time winning. It’s hard to be cute and win in this conference, and as you can tell, coach is not a very cute guy.”
On if there is a plan to expand the support for Pruitt’s staff:
“That is a good question. I don’t know all that Alabama has done, but it has been very successful. We will commit to being competitive at the top of this league.”