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Darrin Kirkland Jr. (34) plays middle linebacker for Tennessee. The Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles visited the Tennessee Volunteers in NCAA football action at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville on November 5, 2016.

Does Tuesday's news that Tennessee junior linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. apparently will remain a Volunteer say more about the player, the persuasive power of his parents, the recruiting prowess of first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt or perhaps all three?

It was just last week that Kirkland announced via Twitter — and doesn't everyone from President Trump on down announce their every move on Twitter these days? — that he was going to exit UT as a graduate transfer and play his final two seasons of college football elsewhere.

Given the number of injuries he's had since arriving in Knoxville from Indianapolis with a large amount of both brains and talent, the reasons for such a move seemed to center on two theories that were not necessarily mutually exclusive.

No. 1: After missing so many games, Kirkland just needed a fresh start.

No. 2: Not sure if Kirkland — who sat out most of the spring and missed all of last season with a knee injury — would be at full strength by the fall, Pruitt might have gently nudged him out the door, further ridding the program of someone who might not completely buy into the new coach's strategies or might never be healthy enough to fully implement those strategies.

Within the Big Orange Nation that second theory underscored the notion that Pruitt was opting for a complete rebuilding job. Clean house. Start over. Blame it all on Butch (Jones, whom Pruitt replaced as head coach).

After all, barely a little more than a month ago, at the close of spring practice, Pruitt sounded like someone who wasn't all that concerned with possible attrition among the veterans on his roster.

To recycle a Pruitt quote from that post-Orange and White Game news conference: "We'll have 14 new guys here (by summer school) and maybe more. Some of these guys that don't want to do it and don't want to do it right all the time, they'll just be watching."

But left unsaid was how much he probably both needed and wanted at least two of his veterans to stay: rising sophomore offensive lineman Trey Smith and the oft-injured Kirkland, who did participate in a few spring drills but not the Orange and White Game.

So while Kirkland had publicly said goodbye to Big Orange Country last Thursday despite tweeting "Tennessee will always hold a special place in my heart, these moments have been priceless and I'm a better player and man from this experience," behind the scenes his departure may have always been less certain.

Over Memorial Day weekend Pruitt is believed to have met with both the player and his parents. On Tuesday the coach told ESPN that Kirkland would remain a Vol.

He even said: "(Kirkland) can definitely help us."

If nothing else, this once more proves Pruitt's recruiting chops, for while it's impressive to get any high-profile recruit to sign with you out of high school, it's doubly impressive to convince a player who didn't sign with you originally and is obviously unhappy with his situation to agree to give his new coach a second chance.

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Western Carolina's Detrez Newsome tries to evade Tennessee linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. during a 2015 game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville.
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It also proves that Pruitt isn't completely a my-way-or-the-highway guy, which often has been his public image.

Whether Kirkland's apparent misgivings about his role in Pruitt's defense were a misunderstanding or not, the coach could easily have said, "Hey, if he doesn't want to be here, good riddance."

It's happened before with a coaching change, and players leaving for multiple reasons is happening more and more with more lenient transfer policies. That it seems no longer to be happening in this case is a credit to both Pruitt and Kirkland, as well as his parents.

Assuming this is the final episode of this brief soap opera, Tennessee now knows it will have a young man always previously seen as a high-character, low-maintenance guy spearheading its defense to go with Smith on offense, if the gifted lineman is once more healthy.

Throw in Tuesday's other news that UT basketball player Admiral Schofield will return for his senior season rather than remain in next month's NBA draft, and it's hard to remember a day in late May that's brought more good news to Volsville.

As for Kirkland and Pruitt, the player's return may also mean that in the coach's haste to recruit, as well as mingling with fans and boosters during the recent Big Orange Caravan stops, he perhaps neglected to assure at least a few of his more valuable returning veterans that they matter. That he wants them and needs them. That he doesn't want to start over from scratch.

Remember, he's never before been a head coach. He's being pulled in at least twice as many directions as at any previous time in his distinguished coaching career. No coach, not even Alabama's Nick Saban, can be all things to all people at all times. Important issues occasionally fall through the cracks. Especially during a rebuilding job as massive as the one at UT.

"The injuries have been hard on him, but he wants to be here and we want him here," Pruitt told ESPN on Tuesday regarding Kirkland.

That the player's Twitter account reportedly has been deleted would indicate that "UT" now stands for Un-Twitter where Kirkland's concerned. Now if only it could teach a few of the nation's more famous Twitter users to think before they tweet.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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