Tennessee football: Phillip Fulmer compares Jeremy Pruitt to Johnny Majors

Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors and offensive coordinator Phillip Fulmer watch the Vols warm up before the Memphis State game Saturday, Nov. 14, 1992Majors And Fulmer 1992
Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors and offensive coordinator Phillip Fulmer watch the Vols warm up before the Memphis State game Saturday, Nov. 14, 1992Majors And Fulmer 1992 /

Is the Tennessee football Volunteers head coach similar to Johnny Majors?

Well this will certainly draw a reaction from fans. Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt was compared to one of the biggest legends in school history by the man who hired Pruitt and worked under the legend.

UT athletic director Phillip Fulmer, who was on Vol Calls Wednesday night on the heels of recovering from COVID, preached patience when discussing Pruitt’s struggles. In the process, he brought up Johnny Majors, according to Patrick Brown of GoVols247.

Fulmer noted that Majors’ rebuild took multiple years. He added that Pruitt’s record through his first 30 games with Tennessee football was 15-15, which is one game better than what Majors’ record was his first 30 games as head coach of the program. Here’s a bit of what he said.

"“I guess I’ll show my age a little bit, I had the experience of being part of Coach Majors’ staff in the early 80s and the programs are kind of in a similar place. It took Coach into his fourth and fifth year to get things turned around, and right now everybody wished that it would happen quicker in the process.”"

Majors, who passed away earlier this summer, went 4-7, 5-5-1 and 7-5 his first three years on the job. He then went 5-6 in 1980, his fourth year and Fulmer’s first as a member of his staff. After that, though, the program took off.

From 1980 to 1988, Fulmer was offensive line coach for UT under Majors. He was then the Vols’ offensive coordinator from 1989 to 1991 before replacing Majors as head coach, first interim and then full-time, in 1992.

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Of course, there are reasons to question that comparison. For starters, Majors was a proven coach who had just won a national championship with the Pittsburgh Panthers the year before he arrived on Rocky Top, and he was also a legendary Tennessee football player who led the Vols to the 1956 SEC Championship and was a Heisman Trophy runner-up.

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Pruitt, who had never been a head coach at any level before taking over the Vols, has neither of those things on his resume. To be fair, though, you could say the rebuild situations are similarly difficult on Rocky Top.

UT was 20 years removed from an SEC Championship when Pruitt took over and 17 years removed from a top 10 finish. The Vols were eight years removed from an SEC title and five years removed from a top 10 finish when Majors took over. Also, they had just gone 4-8 and 0-8 in the SEC when Pruitt took over. When Majors took over, they hadn’t had a losing season in 13 years.

Majors defenders will say that he took over at a time when Bear Bryant was dominating the SEC with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Well, Nick Saban is doing the same thing with the same school at the moment. The Georgia Bulldogs were rolling under Vince Dooley as well, but Tennessee football didn’t play them every year.

Now, the timing of this comparison is questionable, and it seems like Fulmer is just making excuses at this point to save face for hiring Pruitt, but nobody can deny that Pruitt inherited as difficult of a rebuild as Majors. The numbers prove that.

Fulmer did resort to the COVID excuse as well and how it’s affected everything this year, but that one just doesn’t seem to land as much. Every team in the nation has dealt with outbreaks, postponements, cancelations and absences. That one doesn’t land.

This wasn’t the only highlight on Vol Calls Wednesday night either. A fan called in and asked Pruitt when he would admit he’s not a “ball coach” and go back to Alabama. Pruitt, to be fair, took it well and made a joke about it. Here’s the full call.

That was the highlight of the night for many Vol fans. If we’re still comparing Pruitt to Majors, though, Majors would have had a much more quick-witted response to that guy. He was the best in the business when it came to interviews.

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Simply put, it was an eventful night for Tennessee football on Vol Calls. Fulmer definitely stirred the pot by comparing his hire to a legend he replaced in 1992. We should add that Majors’ lifelong animosity towards Fulmer after that makes it even more intriguing for Fulmer to bring him up. But that combined with the fan call made for a fun show.