Coach Jeremy Pruitt quickly begins bonding with Tennessee players

Jeremy Pruitt speaks after being introduced as Tennessee football coach, in Knoxville, Tenn., Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (Calvin Mattheis/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

KNOXVILLE - Before being formally introduced as Tennessee's head football coach on Thursday, Jeremy Pruitt addressed his new team for the first time.

Pruitt, who coached against the Volunteers this season as Alabama's defensive coordinator, was impressed by the way the Tennessee players approached their first get-together.

"The guys were on the edge of their seats," Pruitt said. "They actually all had notebooks, had pen in hand and were taking notes. I'm excited about this football team; I'm excited to get to know them. For a first impression from them to me, I'm excited to coach these guys.

"These guys realize that we want to change the culture; they're hungry; they're excited. These guys are ready to get started, and I'm excited about it."

Pruitt added that because of his busy schedule he had to turn away some of the players who lined up at his door in the afternoon.

Pruitt announced Thursday that he also will be finishing his duties at Alabama as the Crimson Tide prepare for the College Football Playoff. But he made it clear that he's not making the Volunteers play second fiddle.

"I work for the University of Tennessee. I'm all in at the University of Tennessee," Pruitt said. "Until the dead period, we're going to recruit. I'm going to work as the head football coach at the University of Tennessee, and we're going to do the best we can to start going in the right direction."

With finals week approaching for the Vols players, Pruitt's first concern as coach is to make sure each player is solid academically.

"My challenge to them was this: Here's your first test for Coach Pruitt," Pruitt said. "It's finals week. If you've got a 65 in a class, let's find a way to get it to a 70. If you've got an 88 in a class, let's find a way to get it to a 91. Let's see how we're going to finish. If you're going to have success in this conference, you better learn how to finish - in the classroom, on the field, in everything you do."

Although the Vols finished with a program-worst 4-8 record this season, Pruitt doesn't want his players to look back at that, instead moving forward to next year.

"I'm a firm believer that you don't look in the rearview mirror," Pruitt said. "There's nothing I can do about what's happened in the past. It will have no effect of what happens here in the future. ... There's nothing that happened last year that's going to affect what's going to happen in the future, and our guys are going to understand that."

Some of the current Vols shared their feelings on Pruitt via Twitter.

"Welcome to Rocky Top @CoachJPruitt! Best decision you could have possibly made! All of Vol Nation is behind you through anything and everything during this upcoming journey," senior safety Todd Kelly Jr. tweeted out on Thursday morning.

"Christmas came early this year," freshman cornerback Shawn Shamburger tweeted.

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