Not too many comments by other coaches on the current and most recent former Tennessee football head coaches are out there. However, those few, anonymous comments that do exist draw a stark contrast between the two.
It’s not that all is positive for one and negative for the other either. They just show how different each coach is and, without being substantial in words, say a lot about where the program is headed going forward.
When it comes to former Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt, the slam on him was his inability to lead men as a head coach. Here’s what an anonymous coach told Athlon Sports in their recent preseason magazine about Pruitt.
"“You got the feeling he didn’t know how to let go from being a coordinator. Culturally, they lost the kids; we heard that from transfers and gossip, but it’s also on the tape. They didn’t want to play, they didn’t want to work for each other.”"
Now, the opposite criticism was true for the current head coach in Josh Heupel. There were no doubts about his ability to lead anybody. What came up, though, were questions about his SEC connections and ability to recruit in the league. Here’s what an anonymous coach said about him in an Lindy’s Magazine’s 2021 preview.
"“I like Josh Heupel. He is going to be good on offense. My concern with Josh is his ability to recruit in an SEC environment. He has no clue. Hiring (defensive line coach) Rodney Garner helps because he’s one of the founding fathers of SEC recruiting. I don’t know much about (defensive coordinator) Tim Banks from Penn State. It will be interesting to see what he can do with what he has. So many (defensive players) entered the transfer portal.”"
See the difference? Nobody was going to question Pruitt’s ability to recruit in the SEC, as all of his experience was in the SEC before he became a head coach. Heupel, on the other hand, draws concern on that front.
If you’re looking for weaknesses, though, Pruitt’s weakness is a much more serious issue. Not being able to transition to a head coach, which a lot of people felt about him during his time on Rocky Top, is a proven issue for tons of coaches.
Heupel’s weakness, meanwhile, is a bit of an overrated concern. For starters, he does have SEC experience, as he spent two years on Barry Odom’s staff as the Missouri Tigers’ offensive coordinator. Oh, and he’s familiar with the region, as the UCF Knights are in SEC country, and he recruited Texas while with the Oklahoma Sooners, which is also now SEC country.
Beyond that, SEC experience is overrated anyway. Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Les Miles all had no SEC experience before their first jobs as head coaches of SEC programs, and all won national titles at those schools as well. Tennessee football may not win a national title with Heupel, but this anonymous criticism of him is much less concerning than what was said about Pruitt.