Tennessee NCAA college football head coach Jeremy Pruitt speaks during Southeastern Conference Media Days Wednesday, July 18, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 3/17/17. David Cobb is the Chattanooga Times Free Press's new Tennessee beat reporter. Taken on March 16, 2017.

KNOXVILLE — Dismiss it as a frivolous product of college football's talking season, a senseless issue that's long-settled or a hit job on the new coach at a division rival.

Many already have, because they are not sure how to process it.

The truth is that the week-old saga of former Georgia players questioning Jeremy Pruitt's head coaching credentials provides the most insightful window yet into the potential for brazenness in Pruitt's personality and demeanor.

Hang tight, Tennessee fans. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It will depend on how that brazenness manifests itself in Knoxville.

What the former Georgia players vs. Pruitt story demonstrates in a way that nothing else has in the eight-plus months since Pruitt was hired at Tennessee is just how willing Pruitt is to buck the establishment to follow his football convictions.

A defensive coordinator disagreeing with his head coach is not worth discussing three years later. A defensive coordinator standing up to an entrenched icon such as Mark Richt to the degree that the stories still bother Richt disciples years later? That takes another level of gumption from the offending party.

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Coach Jeremy Pruitt talks to linebacker Leonard Floyd during Georgia's game with Clemson in Athens, Ga., on Aug. 30, 2014. (Photo by John Kelley/UGA Sports)

It's a level of gumption that could become the defining characteristic – good or bad – of Pruitt's tenure at Tennessee. In some ways it already is.

Changing out the long-established team surgeons who are deeply respected in Knoxville's medical community – as Pruitt has reportedly done – takes that mentality, and it's a move some won't like. A challenge to the fan base over spring game attendance, no matter how subtle or misunderstood, requires that mentality as well.

Neither of those things near the Richt ordeal in terms of significance, but throw them into the evidence category when it comes to Pruitt's capability of unpleasant candor for the sake of winning.

Those moves are are reflective of a coach who has experienced the pinnacle of college football success and is unconcerned about collateral damage as he attempts to reach that summit as a head coach.

Ruffling some feathers in the medical community and gently chiding a fragile fan base is one thing. Challenging an entrenched and well-respected boss such as Richt is another. That's what this ordeal shows Pruitt will do.

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Former Tennessee head coach, Phillip Fulmer, is seen an NCAA college football game between Tennessee and South Carolina Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Watch out Phillip Fulmer? Perhaps.

Here's the kicker, though.

Pruitt's conflict with Richt is not evidence of a reckless pattern of disrespect by Pruitt. Could he have handled the situation better? Probably. Pruitt will need to continue learning the art of strategic diplomacy as a head coach.

But on the heels of a $450,000 raise following his first year in Athens, Pruitt was trying to win, which would have saved Richt's job. Presumably, he was doing that by implementing elements of a culture learned from national championships he was on staff for under Nick Saban at Alabama and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State.

That apparently led to friction.

If Pruitt's reputation after two decades as an assistant coach was that of an insubordinate, disrespectful jerk to authority figures, would Nick Saban have said the following when he hired Pruitt to be defensive coordinator for his defending national champion Crimson Tide in the immediate aftermath of the unraveling at Georgia?

"There was no doubt about who I was going to hire," Saban said. "I didn't interview anybody. I didn't talk to anybody. I just hired the guy. He worked here for six years. Maybe I should have called some people to find out how good he was and get some recommendations."

Another critical gauge in evaluating the Pruitt-Georgia ordeal is to look at Tennessee's staff.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Sherrer, offensive line coach Will Friend, tight ends coach Brian Niedermeyer, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and assistant to the head coach John Lily each worked at Georgia in some capacity while Pruitt was the defensive coordinator there. Surely they all have respect for Richt, who is one of the most respectable men in the profession.

But they had no problem coming to work for Pruitt in Knoxville, even after witnessing his interactions with Richt first-hand in Athens.

Ordering the Two-A-Days DVD set from Amazon when Pruitt was hired at Tennessee helped. Traveling to New Orleans for Sugar Bowl media day in late December and talking with more than a dozen former players, co-workers and teammates of Pruitt also provided insight.

Reading the reporting of others, who have spent time in Rainsville, Alabama learning about Pruitt's background has been beneficial as well.

Nothing has been as insightful about Tennessee's first-year coach as learning details of his time at Georgia over the past week.

We sort of knew it before. Now, it's quite clear. Get on board with Pruitt's vision of what it takes to win, or get out of the way.

Because he is willing confront you. Or he might take his ball and go home.

Contact David Cobb at Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at