We’ve reached the point in the college football offseason when fans start getting a little punchy and those who get paid to comment on college football begin doing so in earnest. When the two phenomena meet we usually see a tempest in a tea pot erupt out into the summer heat. Someone says something that, in and of itself, isn’t that noteworthy or controversial and we all take turns dissecting it and pontificating on it until toe actually meets leather.
This year’s fodder comes courtesy of former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. Murray took to the radio on Nashville’s 102.5 The Game yesterday and, being in Nashville, was obviously asked about Tennessee head coach/former UGA assistant Jeremy Pruitt. Unlike in the 2010 World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, Aaron did not disappoint, admitting:
“I don’t know if his personality is fit to be a head coach. . . As a head coach, there’s so many things that go into it. It’s not just going out there and coaching. You have to deal with front office. You’ve got to go talk with the President of the university, you have to deal with boosters. You have to deal with the offense, the defense. It’s not just going in there and dealing with the kids and scheming up.
Predictably, Tennessee fans on social media and sports talk radio freaked the heck out and cast aspersions on Murray’s piety, lineage, choice of dog breeds and pizza toppings, and generally accused him of being a good-for-nothing so-and-so who doesn’t love the Lord.
Which is both entirely understandable and wholly ridiculous.
For starters, let’s not pretend that Aaron Murray is some random dude who knows nothing about SEC football, or Jeremy Pruitt. Murray still holds the SEC career records in virtually every relevant passing statistic, ahead of Peyton Manning, whose choice in fishing lures is actually on par with an act of the legislature in the Voluntears State. Murray also won 36 games and two SEC East titles between 2010 and 2013. He has just as many Heisman Trophies and national titles as Saint Peyton, by the way. He’s also been praised by coaches and media members since he started with CBS Sports for his knowledge and insight.
And while Murray left Athens the year before Pruitt blew into town, and therefore didn’t actually share a meeting room or practice field with the guy, I’m pretty sure he still gets in the Butts-Mehre without having to schedule an appointment. Many of Murray’s teammates remained in Athens for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. If you think the subject of Pruitt never came up in a text message or at a barbecue, you’re just being intentionally obtuse. Aaron Murray’s opinion may be wrong, but it’s not uninformed.
It’s also not his alone. People around the Bulldog program were quietly talking about Pruitt’s hot-blooded demeanor before he even arrived in Clarke County. It wasn’t a secret. In fact, you may recall that it was celebrated, with many thinking Pruitt’s fire might help even out Mark Richt’s famous (and if you’ve ever seen him on the practice field, overstated) cool and calm way. The notion that Jeremy Pruitt is a hothead who says what he damn well thinks, whether to players, other assistants, superiors, fans, or boosters is canon in SEC circles at this point. It isn’t inaccurate. Even Pruitt will begrudgingly admit he gets fired up and speaks his mind. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Like me watching the Braves fold in the second half, he swears because he cares.
And it shouldn’t be controversial that questions remain about how Pruitt’s bullheaded ways will mix with those of Tennessee athletic director Phil Fulmer. Fulmer all but took over as interim coach in 2017. He stepped into the post-Butch breach as the face of the program. Fulmer has both a professional and a personal stake in the success of the Volunteer football program, and he’s got ideas about what’s best for it formed over four decades of involvement with the program. Aaron Murray isn’t the first to say that he’s not sure how Pruitt and Fulmer will coexist. He’s not even among the first dozen paid college football commentators to raise the question. Tennessee fans who haven't at least considered how their tango will go really need to take off the creamsicle glasses.
Murray was undefeated against the Volunteers while playing at Georgia, and don’t think for a second that his red and black pedigree doesn't play some role in this fervor for some Vol fans. Of course, if Murray had said “Jeremy Pruitt is the lovechild of Nick Saban and Vince Lombardi, and will bring a national title and world peace to Knoxville within three seasons” Tennessee fans would be sharing that all over the internet as well, and remarking on how Murray was always a heady player who knows good leadership when he sees it.
But I don’t blame them for it. No one wants to be told that the new head coach they’re counting on to lead them back to their place in the college football pantheon isn’t up to the task. Georgia fans bristled when the insinuation was made about Kirby Smart. We’ll be just as up in arms when someone criticizes the poor soul tasked with replacing him. It’s what college football fans do. In the end the scoreboard will be the final judge on this one.
And there’s certainly nothing that prevents Pruitt from growing as a person and learning about himself and becoming one helluva great head coach. Stranger things have happened, and in the SEC they usually do. Until later . . .