Tennessee football: Vols, Jeremy Pruitt look bad departing from VFL Terry Fair

6 Dec 1997: Defensive back Terry Fair of the Tennessee Volunteers celebrates during a game against the Auburn Tigers at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia. Tennessee won the game, 30-29. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport
6 Dec 1997: Defensive back Terry Fair of the Tennessee Volunteers celebrates during a game against the Auburn Tigers at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia. Tennessee won the game, 30-29. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport /

Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt replaced assistant coach and Vol for Life Terry Fair with Derrick Ansley. That makes the UT Volunteers look bad.

For the second year in a row, Tennessee football parted ways with an assistant coach two days after National Signing Day. Last year, it was running backs coach Robert Gillespie. This year, it was defensive backs coach Terry Fair.

Both times, they were position coaches. Both times, they were former players in the SEC. And both times, the decision to part ways with each coach appears to have been on the part of Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols.

Don’t take my word for it. Blake Toppmeyer of the Knoxville News Sentinel reported last Friday that Fair was fired. We detailed the public quotes last year that made it clear the Vols got rid of Gillespie, who is now an assistant with the North Carolina Tar Heels. Sure, he may have offered Fair the chance to stay on in an administrative role, but that’s still a firing from his current role.

This is a very bad look for Tennessee football, and it’s even worse for them when it comes to the handling of Terry Fair, who played for the Vols. The moves make them look like snakes, totally disprove the idea of Vol for Life, and are baseless in nature. Pruitt replaced Gillespie for Chris Weinke, by all accounts to make sure that he has a connection into the high school play in Florida.

Meanwhile, he already has his replacement for Fair: Oakland Raiders defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley, who was a graduate assistant for the Alabama Crimson Tide while Pruitt was their defensive backs coach in 2010 and 2011 and then became defensive backs coach for the Tide while Pruitt was defensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017. Ansley was also with the Vols in 2012.

It’s time to start wondering what shady operation they run on Rocky Top. Pruitt clearly got rid of these guys to get specific people he wants in there. If wants to part ways with coaches, that’s fine. But he should not be in the business of holding onto them until after National Signing Day just to make sure his recruiting class is safe. That’s what it seemed like he was doing in both cases.

The secondary class was among the best for the Vols in 2019. There were six commitments, three of whom are four-stars. Do you not think that Fair had something to do with that? Of course he did. And last year Gillespie was his one holdover from Butch Jones’s staff. He just happened to be the best recruiter on the staff. So he was inevitably there to salvage the class.

Both times, Pruitt kept them on specifically for that reason and then dumped them. Even Butch Jones, who did a few snake-like things in his own right, had the common decency to part ways with Jon Jancek within a few days after the 2015 season ended. This is just wrong on every level, and it’s one that should make other great assistants hesitate before joining Pruitt’s staff.

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Then there’s the issue of Fair specifically. Fair was a member of the 1994 recruiting class, which athletic director Phillip Fulmer has specifically said he has a deep appreciation for. It was his first class after all. On top of that, Fair was the leader of the defense in the 1990s while Peyton Manning ran the offense. He should be at the top of Fulmer’s list of players he loves.

So how could he, as Pruitt’s boss, justify firing such a Vol who has been so loyal to the university? To this point, Fair has done a lot more for Tennessee football than Pruitt. He gave his all everyday. Replacing a Vol for Life with another Vol for Life in Tee Martin doesn’t cut it either. Fair isn’t on as a head coach or coordinator. You’re telling me he is worthy of being fired as a position coach?

Even if you want to talk about the issues facing the secondary last year, that’s not on Fair. The Vols were middle of the road, No. 60, in pass defense anyway. And Fair, as the cornerbacks coach, actually seemed to do a very good job. After all, he was dealing with the departure of five guys from a year ago and had to help the transition to a 3-4.

In the process, Bryce Thompson and Alontae Taylor became very solid freshman starters. Fair turned Thompson into a Freshman All-American. Simply put, it made no sense for Pruitt to part ways with Fair when you look at production.

Pruitt wouldn’t even be able to sell lack of production with this move. After all, he has remained the defensive coordinator for the Vols, and coaching defensive backs is his speciality. So lack of production would still be on him. But the fact of the matter is there was no lack of production anyway, so what are we talking about?

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Tennessee football already looked questionable with their firing of Robert Gillespie last year. The departure from Fair is a much uglier look. It suggests that loyalty and production mean nothing on Rocky Top. Also, it makes Pruitt look willing to throw anybody under the bus. This is not how the Vols should treat an assistant who did a good job and was a former All-SEC player for them.