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Jeremy Pruitt gestures while working with Tennessee's defensive backs during a practice on March 22.

A question for Big Orange Nation: How do you like new Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt as he reaches his 111th day on the job?

We ask this after scanning the school's transcript from Saturday's post-practice news conference. We ask this after seeing not a single bit of coaching blather along the lines of "brick by brick," or "snap and clear," or some sophomoric motivational tool to rival the "turnover trash can," or whatever that thing was that former coach Butch Jones littered the sideline with at last season's Georgia Tech game.

No, this son of both the South and a noted high school football coach, this product of small-town America but big-time Southern football — as in assistant's stops at Alabama, Florida State and Georgia — appears to be all business all of the time.

And could any Southeastern Conference program as steeped in tradition as UT need that return to basics more than the Volunteers?

Let's start with Pruitt's refreshingly blunt assessment of the team he takes over: "We weren't very good, obviously."

No group singing of "Kumbaya," hand holding or ego building. No "champions of life" rhetoric, though at some point, behind the scenes, that should be equally important to the product on the field.

Yet honesty also begat hope, Pruitt dangling a carrot amid the criticism.

"I'm starting to like this team," he said. "I sense a lot of guys who are hungry and maybe have a chip on their shoulder. Not all of them, but maybe enough of them have it and maybe we can make it where it's contagious."

Yet even with the plain-spoken Pruitt, there is talk and there are actions, so here's perhaps the most significant thing the former defensive coordinator said Saturday regarding a change in philosophy.

"We want to approach the spring game and actually play a game," he said. "We're going to divide up the squad and play a game. We'll actually go through the Vol Walk. We want to go through the same routine. We may even stay in a hotel on Friday night."

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And he added nothing to that about a Stableford-style scoring system, or stopping the scrimmage every six plays for some kind of contest, or in general making it pretty much a waste of time, as was so often the case with Jones. No, this sounds like the good ol' days, when you might put your first-team offense with your second-team defense and your first-team defense with your second-team offense and see which team most wanted to eat the steaks that went to the winners instead of the hot dogs that were reserved for the losers.

It also brought to mind an idea current UT athletic director and Hall of Fame football coach Phillip Fulmer once entertained about possibly bringing in an outside opponent for a spring game. Take away the high injury producers such as punts and kickoffs, charge a reasonable fee of $10 for adults and $5 for kids with all proceeds except the other team's travel expenses going to charity. Maybe even make sacking the quarterback a flag football affair to avoid any chance of injury at that position.

But just imagine for a moment what such an exhibition against a Virginia Tech or a Clemson — nearby schools that UT almost never plays — could do to raise money and interest. Just imagine how much more enticing that would be than watching a tackling drill or a quarterback attempting to throw a pass at a life-sized cutout of a teammate.

Yet return to a real spring game — assuming Pruitt follows through on his plan — isn't the only reason to like the guy.

He's already pooh-poohed the idea of alternative uniforms, so those gray outfits that so enthralled Jones are out. And before anyone drags up the questionable argument that recruits like them, ask somebody when was the last time Alabama changed its uniforms. To any great degree, it was when Bear Bryant took over the program in 1958. Every year since — with the exception of occasionally playing in white helmets instead of crimson ones, the Tide has dressed remarkably the same each time it takes the field. Clean. Simple. Timeless.

Also, last time we checked, Bama has finished with a No. 1 recruiting class almost every year since Nick Saban's been there.

So it might be time for the Vols to return to the uniforms that former AD Doug Dickey first made popular in the 1960s when he was football coach. A narrow orange stripe down the middle of the helmet with a power T on each side, orange jersey and white pants with two wide stripes on each side. In a nod to the Johnny Majors days — and it was nice to see Pruitt make him a guest at practice last week — they could wear orange pants with white jerseys on the road.

Regardless, it's time to get UT football back to basics, to blocking and tackling in a way that would make Gen. Robert Neyland proud, to winning the game rather than the fashion show.

It was the former coach Jones who once said at the close of spring practice, "We want to lead the country in innovation."

As he begins his 111th day on the job, Pruitt sounds like he's more concerned with leading the nation in wins. And that's both a good and refreshing philosophy for the Big Orange Nation.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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