Wiedmer: Pruitt or no Pruitt, NCAA president is last person who should criticize UT

Wiedmer: Pruitt or no Pruitt, NCAA president is last person who should criticize UT

December 7th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

On Wednesday, NCAA president Mark Emmert criticized how Tennessee has handled its search for a new football coach.

Photo by Matt York

We've probably all had a little too much fun at the University of Tennessee's expense the past three weeks regarding the school's search for a new football coach.

It's chaos, stupidity, arrogance and ignorance all rolled into one. It's all been so unbelievably inept that no one would believe it if it weren't shockingly true. And a school that managed to play football for 120 years before suffering its first eight-loss season deserved better from its administrators.

But having NCAA president Mark Emmert lower the boom on the Volunteers on Wednesday for disorganization and mixed signals is a little like LaVar Ball making fun of helicopter parents, or Al Franken, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose conducting a seminar on the role of women in the workplace.

In case anyone has forgotten, Emmert has presided over three of the most sensationalized, poorly executed, questionably concluded investigations in NCAA history regarding the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, the booster scandal at Miami and the academic fraud scandal at North Carolina.

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Not that Emmert is ever the judge, jury and executioner in such cases, but if he were, he'd make Judge Judy look like Oliver Wendell Holmes.

But with former Vols football coach and newly named UT athletic director Phillip Fulmer reportedly bringing an end to all this nonsense today with the apparent hiring of Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, a quick look at Emmert's immensely inappropriate (though not necessarily untrue) words deserves a quick criticism.

Said Emperor Emmert during the Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York — according to a tweet from Forbes contributor Jason Belzer: "When you don't have the board, President and AD in alignment about why you play football, what your goals are, and how you're going to make personnel decisions then you get what happened at UT."

Funny, but when you don't have the board, president and member institutions in alignment on why you fund intercollegiate athletics, what your goals are and how you're going to make decisions that best support those goals, you get the NCAA.

But if Fulmer has really gotten Pruitt to abandon his alma mater to take over the Vols, Tennessee may have just found the guy to make the Big Orange Nation quickly forget everything negative that has happened since John Currie, the AD at the time, fired Butch Jones on Nov. 12.

What makes the 43-year-old Pruitt so special, despite never previously having been a head coach at any level?

Everything, if you believe high school coaching legend Rush Propst, who's currently coaching one of the nation's best outside linebacker prospects in J.J. Peterson at Colquitt County (Ga.) High School.

"(Pruitt's) two biggest attributes are his ability to recruit and the ability to adjust to things (offenses) are doing to him," Probst told the SEC Country website earlier this week, speaking of the man he once hired at Hoover (Ala.) High, just south of Birmingham. "Those are things he could do better than most people I've been around. Jeremy, in a ballgame, where things may not be going his way, he can make adjustments as good as anyone."

Probst told of Hoover facing Prattville for a state title in 2004. Probst thought Prattville was the better team, but "(Pruitt) schemes up the perfect plays and we block two punts that led to touchdowns. That's how we won the game."

That talent to see what most coaches don't is one reason why Pruitt has won national championships as a defensive coordinator at both Alabama and Florida State, where in 2013 he took a Seminoles defense that had lost seven starters from the previous year and somehow led the nation in scoring defense, pass defense and interceptions.

And this year, despite numerous injuries, especially at linebacker, the Tide led the nation in scoring defense for a second straight season. If Pruitt comes to UT, he is expected to attempt to convince Bama linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi to join him.

Again, as referenced in the SEC Country story, this is exactly what Tennessee has desperately needed, according to Probst, who has two former Colquitt County players — Jay Blakeley and Shawn Shamburger — currently on the Vols' roster.

"They need to hire someone, and a group of coaches, who have ties to coaches in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and obviously Tennessee," Propst told the website. "I think that's so important to them."

With the early signing period now less than two weeks away, it would seem at least somewhat important that Fulmer hires someone as soon as possible.

But given that Fulmer did pretty well after never being a head coach before taking over the UT program late in the 1992 season, and another former Saban defensive coordinator — Georgia coach Kirby Smart has the Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff in only his second season leading the Bulldogs — Pruitt appears to be both a safe and smart choice.

It might even convince the NCAA's Emmert that UT's board, president and AD are definitely aligned regarding why they're playing football, what their goals are and how they've come to hire Pruitt as their next football coach.

Or he might send his gumshoes to Rocky Top to investigate how such a coaching search could take so long to get it right.

Doesn't really matter. As long as Emmert is in charge, UT — and every other college and university he presides over — will always come out looking better than the NCAA.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

Vols head football coach search

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