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From Sportsfan

My apologies for the extent of this missive. I heard the last few minutes of Press Row (Monday) afternoon. I didn't hear the entire program, so the following comments may miss the point of your discussion completely. I want to respond to the comments related to CJP's [Jeremy Pruitt's] recent press conferences. I understand the dissatisfaction with CJP's responses to reporters' inquiries and fans' concerns.  Full disclosure: I've never coached college level sports, so the following is my opinion and not based on any kind of inside information, knowledge, or understanding. I imagine that CJP is not pleased with his players' performance. From time to time, I'm not satisfied with my staff's performance. Standing in front of a crowd of outsiders (press members and fans) is probably not the best place to call out your quarterback (or any other position player) that their performance is dismal. That has to be handled within the team setting. Same for me in my office. If I have an underperforming employee, I've got to deal with that person outside the "public" or "office" arena. If the employee just doesn't "get it," then there comes a time to cut that employee loose. There may be times when a public execution is beneficial to bring others in line, but it should never be the first choice for correcting behavior. For a head coach to use a press conference to call out or attempt to "coach up" players probably leads to the coach losing the locker room.  It may be what the fans want or the press wants, but in today's environment, it probably doesn't work long term for recruiting or improving players. CJP and his assistants still need to coach up the players they have to get the best out of each player, but if the talent on the team is lacking, then recruiting (or writing $180K checks or coordinating shoe deals) is the only way to get better talent.  A wise man once told me to never fire the cook while patrons are in the restaurant.  Same for CJP, publicly, he can't eviscerate his players for lack of talent until he's got better talent in the locker room.  Thoughts? 


Interesting question that has several layers and offers a couple of talking points.

First, I concur with your leadership style in day-to-day business. If your team of widget makers is going gang-busters, you're going to praise them in public; if your team of widget makers loses to Georgia State, well, you have to criticize them in private.

There are several differences, however, between leading widget-makers and leading a high-profile sports organization.

First, we all think we know something about sports, be it Jeremy Pruitt's discussion of the Vols struggles or Gregg Popovich being a flesh pickle to sideline reporters. We realize that we know very little about making widgets.
So, if you or your deputy chief widgetarian tells me that having a five-star heart is a key component for champion widgetary, then great. When Butch Jones says it, well, we know he's full of it.

Next, the intensity around any program or franchise is exponentially greater than the cry for details about widget making. That means there are multiple media responsibilities a week for Pruitt and his colleagues.

Those extra chances/obligations create more and more chances to weave away from the designed message.

And let's face it, there's an art to the leadership and messaging through the media for a coach.

It's called coach-speak for a reason, and not unlike clichés, it is based in repetitive truths.

But to be considered truthful and competent and maintain a connection with your fan base, you have to try to balance the truth with the need of broader leadership principles like "praise in public, criticize in private."

When asked about Jarrett Guarantano's performance or importance, Pruitt can hardly say, "Well, you know he's done some really good things" and a) keep a straight face; and b) keep his fans from thinking, "Oh crud, Jeremy's gone batty."

Not surprisingly, the best in the world at this may be Nick Saban.

Popovich has become too much of a jack-wagon and actually seems to enjoy being a jack-wagon. Bill Belichick is simply a football madman who would like to stay in his office, watch film, stare at his trophies, devise ways to torment the Dolphins, Bills and Jets for another decade, find Brady's replacement so he can win one on his own and listen to Jerky Boy cassettes. (Side question: OK, where on the hierarchy of "Get the BLEEP outta here" does the fact that Bill Belichick thinks taped crank phone calls from the 1980s are the funniest thing ever? Has to be up there with Kyrie Irving saying the world is flat, right?)

Anyhoo, Saban is the best. He actually answers questions and stays on topic and delivers his message — be it to the fans, his team and even the media — with his words, tone and gestures.

Sure it helps to have a press room lapping at the rain drizzle coming off your Mercedes and knowing that every media representative in that room needs Saban a heck of a lot more than he or Alabama need said media member.

But Saban is the best at it. He's critical without criticizing. He answers questions as well as taking exception to bad questions. He's thoughtful and, when he wants to be, funny. He's no Spurrier (who is?) but Saban's downright clever.

From the view from one of the guys who has those questions, be honest. Period.

You can have a message to deliver, but don't be scripted with too many of the same catch phrases or talking points.

Not sure if I answered your question, Sportsfan, but I find this topic fascinating.

Which leads us to a whole lot of UT fans who were less than thrilled with my week of opinions on the Vols, the Jeremy Banks issue and the entire week.

Here are a few:

> That's what the mainstream media has become & the democratic/ socialist movement this has always been the main goal to take the father out of the black culture & replace it with a check! I'm not for a party but I the black population is 13% & white men aren't the problem;

> And just like that the media, liberal social justice warriors, and politicians turn on a kid that they regularly tell police are out to get you because their racist. I prefer he stays gets a degree and learns why what he said isn't good and some day becomes a good mentor to kids;

> You have never been and never will be a true UT Fan because you are a suck-up Georgia homer who secretly loves Alabama - been that way since you was the sports editor too before you got fired from that job;

> You should stick to politics because you do NOT know (poop) about sports!!!

Good times.

Here's an actual UT football question, though:

From Larry

I listen to you guys on Press Row and I know you and wells thinks we don't have a chance against Georgia Sat.

What would have to happen for CJP and his team to make me want to watch til the end?

Larry —

Thanks for listening and I think the phrasing on your question is perfect.

What can Pruitt and the Vols do to shorten the game and make it where one mistake can turn everything?

I've never been for moral victories, but Pruitt and his young Vols have to view this for what it is: A magnificent chance on a monster stage. That's what these Saturdays are, and he made the most of last year's trip to Auburn, showing a defensive clairvoyance and a slew of adjustments against a predictable Malzahn slow roll and utilizing the only true advantage he had then and has now — NFL dudes on the perimeter.

Look, we can break down Guarantano 12 ways from Tuesday, and the film from the first third of the season is going to rank somewhere between "Disorderlies" and "Caddyshack II" on the re-watchable scale.

But if you embrace the opportunity and give the brave home folks who are still spending their dollars and showing up hoarse and hungover to church, here's one idea on a game play.

Be creative but calculated. This is not saying you run an on-side kick to start the game or the annexation of Puerto Rico on your first snap.

> Defensively, know your foe and that Georgia is going to give UT a heavy dose of DeAndre Swift. But here's a thought: Make sure on every hand-off/fake hand-off that blindside 'backer stays focused on Jake Fromm. A blindside hit could lead to a turnover or two. Push your chips in defensively, because a) that's what was sold to UT fans as Pruitt's strength moving forward, and b) truth be told, if it leads to a 60-yard catch-and-run, so be it. It's likely better than a nine-play (all runs), 75-yard TD drive that we will see during Swift's highlight package next spring when he's the first RB drafted.

> As for the chance, call Kiffin and ask him how important the near-upset of Alabama was in 2009. Or ask an Auburn fan about the Iron Bowl later that same year. Yes, those ended in losses, but you could see something being built. You could see the team fight. You could see the staff had invested as much as we the fans. That's the chance today.

Because this staff completely pooped on that same chance at the Swamp two weeks ago.

From a slew of you (paraphrased)

Thoughts on Braves' Game 1 loss?


I can't sugarcoat that one. It was harsh. And painful.

Here's TFP ace sports columnist Mark Wiedmer on the 7-6 Game 1 setback that was filled with highs, lows, mistakes — physical and mental — and a whole lot of finger-pointing in a whole lot of directions.

Before we get into my thoughts, well, there were some folks on Twitter last night not overly jazzed about my Braves analysis, either. (Man, got some folks through social media zingers. Giddy-up.)  

> I do love fans who blame a bad bullpen on the manager;

> Laughable that is considered mismanagement. Keuchel was up against Goldy. We got out of the inning. Luke was the best option after Martin went down. Handed it to your closer with 4 outs left. That should be a win, but the baseball gods love the Cardinals, so ...

> You should ask (Acuña) about staring at the ball instead of running and all that Jazz first. Snitker didn't mismanage the bullpen either. But good try;

> You know less about baseball than you do about Tennessee football, and that is truly shocking to me.

OK, first, some pretty clever heckles this week (and I loved the "stick to politics" email — that was well done) but here are the takeaways from Game 1 for me:

> The Braves are in deep poop. They gave up a 3-1 lead in the eighth because of — wait for it — a balky bullpen and some questionable decisions by manager Brian Snitker. Now they will see arguably the hottest pitcher in all of baseball not named Gerrit Cole in Cards righty Jack Flaherty. Since July 4, Flaherty has allowed more than two earned once in 16 starts (15 quality starts, mind you). In that time, he has pitched 96.1 innings, allowed 11 earned runs (that's a 1.03 ERA friends) with 130 Ks. Egad.

> Ronald Acuña was every bit the superstar we have come to see on a daily basis this season. Great defensive play, 3-for-4 at the plate, a monster ninth-inning homer. But he did not hustle out of the box on a ball he thought to be gone that caromed off the right-field fence, and Acuña was limited to a single. He was altered doubled-up at second on a Josh Donaldson grounder.

His teammates were hot — several spoke out about Acuña's lack of urgency — and how that alters the chemistry moving forward will be interesting watch.

> What will be painful to watch is the bullpen — and how Snitker manages/mismanages it — moving forward.

Part of the problems last night were caused by Chris Martin — who had settled into an effective eighth-inning guy — injuring his oblique muscle warming up. That set the stage for Luke Jackson coming in and doing Luke Jackson-type things that allowed the Cards to go from down 3-1 to tied 3-3.

The rationale offered for not using Max Fried more than the perfect, 14-pitch two-K sixth inning was that Fried was going to be the Game 4 starter.

Well, unless my Auburn math is a little foggy, unless the Braves, you know, win a game, there won't be a Game 4 or a need for a Game 4 starter.

So it goes, and sadly, it looks like it may have already gone for these Braves.


From Mike

Why don't you do more on national college football programs like the real UT or OU or some of the teams that would wipe the floor with these SEC pretenders?


Thanks for playing.

From Tom H.

If you could start your NFL franchise around one player that was not a quarterback, who would it be?

Thanks and I love the 5-at-10.


Tom —

Wow, guy, thanks for the kind words and the great question.

OK, if we take QBs off the board, well, then you have to think about age and relative value, and that value.

Value in terms of contract and in terms of positional impact. Because if QB is the most valuable, guys who get after the QB are next, guys who protect the QB are next and the guys who catch it from the QB are after that.

With that in mind, let's have a top-five draft of franchise non-QB dudes in this NFL. Deal? Deal. (Hey, you know I love the draft.)

1. Aaron Donald, L.A. Yes, I will pay the freight because he creates double- and triple teams and dictates more about any play in which he's on the field than any non-QB in the league.  
2. Khalil Mack, Chicago. Monster contract. Monster production.

3. Myles Garrett, Cleveland. You could make the argument that he is 1 because he's still on the rookie deal.

4. (and 5.) Christian McCaffery and Saquon Barkley. These dudes are game-changers and are the rare running backs that have the offense run through them, not the QB.

This leads us to our NFL picks.

Last week we went a dreadful 1-4 — Ouch-standing — and are now 27-17-1.

As we said on Press Row on Thursday, we were on the over 48.5 in Rams-Seahawks last night.

We also will go Chicago minus-5.5 over Oakland, Minnesota minus-5 at the Giants, New England minus-15 over Washington (yes, that's a truckload of points in an NFL game, but this one screams 42-3) and Tennessee minus-2.5 over Buffalo.

Gang, thanks for the patience on the website changes. I will post the Rushmores shortly in the comments.

Deal? Deal.

Enjoy the weekend, friends.