KNOXVILLE — A lot of people saw the "tug" Saturday night and were still talking about it on Monday.
Late in Tennessee's 35-13 loss to top-ranked Alabama, Volunteers coach Jeremy Pruitt appeared to tug at the facemask of Jarrett Guarantano after the junior quarterback appeared to have gone off-script on a play-call at the goal line on fourth down. The play appeared to be a run going to the left side of the line but instead, Guarantano chose to keep the ball and leap over the pile in an attempt to score.
In what could only be compared to a "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" episode when Carlton stole the ball from Will and hoisted a game-winning shot at the basket — only to miss the rim and the entire backboard completely — Guarantano's leap fell short. To make matters worse he lost the ball, which was recovered by Alabama defensive back Trevon Diggs and returned 100 yards for a touchdown.
Angry with the poorly executed ad-lib, Pruitt sought out Guarantano as he nonchalantly jogged to the sideline, immediately berating him with words probably not suited for this column. At one point, he grabbed at Guarantano's facemask and tugged at it to get his attention.
Honestly, it's not a really big deal. Matter of fact, jump on social media right now and people are praising Pruitt for the action and reigning down terror on anybody speaking otherwise.
But the only reason it isn't a big deal is because Guarantano didn't react.
You can argue he'd have no grounds to react to something so simple – especially considering he was the one who made the mistake — but had he, how would we respond?
What if Guarantano, perhaps tired of the oft-warranted, yet sometimes over-the-top criticism of his play this season, had swung at Pruitt? What if he had just pushed him away?
What if Pruitt does it again to another player, who doesn't respond the same way. Or another coach from another school does something similar to a player. What if he swings at the coach? Chokes him on national television?
While it's real simple to say, 'Well, he'd be off the team,' (and you'd likely be right), the bigger talking point on Monday would be just as much about the player's reaction as the action that caused said reaction. Could that coach keep a job after, considering everything?
We want to consider these 18-22 year olds "kids" while not considering that 18-22 year olds often call themselves adults. Some came from places where football was their only avenue out of the underprivileged surroundings they grew up in. Getting the opportunity to play football at a prestigious university such as Tennessee is a gift considering where they may have come from.
A lot of times, home situations may not include a father, or a mother, or either in the home, giving college coaches carte blanche to consider themselves authority figures. Players have no choice but to fall in line or they'll be back in the same situations they're trying to get away from, unable to conform.
Often that works. More often than not, actually.
And Saturday's situation looks like it worked because, if we're playing the result, Guarantano "got the message," so to speak. In his regularly-scheduled press conference Monday, Pruitt said the two spoke about it Sunday and have "moved on."
"That was one play," Pruitt said. "Unfortunately it was an important play, but we're moving on now."
And that's best. Pruitt will probably need Guarantano to play again this season, quite possibly this week against South Carolina after freshman Brian Maurer appeared to suffer his second concussion in as many weeks.
I played basketball for over 20 years of my life compared to just one year of football, so I can't imagine how I'd react if something similar had happened to me. I guess the equivalent to me would be a coach putting a finger in my face or grabbing my arm. I'd like to think I'd have responded the right way, but in hindsight I have no idea.
We can keep hoping these "kids" respond the right way when being what some would consider disrespected.
But what happens when one doesn't?
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.