As the seasonal sun sets on summer, the Tennessee football team is preparing for a new 2019 campaign.
The Vols, who finished 5-7 last season, are looking for major strides in year two of head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s tenure. Some of the question marks from 2018 still remain, but with returning talent at the wide receiver position, some big-time staff hires this past offseason and a defense with a little more experience, there is reason for some optimism among the coaches.
Optimism is always at an all-time high this time of year. With less than a month from the opening kickoff, teams across college football have championship aspirations and think they have the team and staff to make those aspirations reality.
While Tennessee may not be competing for a national or even an SEC title, Pruitt at the very least thinks his staff is capable of reaching that point at some point during his tenure. He, along with his coaching staff, spoke about that and more on Thursday as the Vols prepare to start fall camp on Friday.
Here are the takeaways:
Pruitt gives coaching staff high praise
Pruitt knows it’s a common cliche among coaches in college football. Chris Rumph echoed those sentiments by stating that he too understands that everyone thinks their staff is the best, but both coaches believe it rings true in Knoxville.
Attrition on the staff started almost immediately following the 2018 season, first with the departure of former offensive coordinator Tyson Helton, who took the head coaching job at Western Kentucky.
Because of the changes, Pruitt was forced to not only look for a replacement, but also move his staff around. He hired Jim Chaney away from Georgia and was able to land Oakland Raiders defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley, whom he made defensive coordinator. Pruitt completed his coordinator group by bringing home former Tennessee quarterback and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin.
From top to bottom, Pruitt is confident that the staff he has assembled is the best in the country and will lead to proven results for the Vols in the near future.
“We had a really good coaching staff with the addition of (Martin, Chaney and Ansley),” Pruitt said. “A lot of people say, ‘I got the best coaching staff in the country.’ Well, most of the people who say it have not been a part of the staffs that I’ve been a part of, which have been some really good staffs.
“When you talk about teaching, recruiting, relationships, all the intangibles that come with being a football coach, I truly believe that we do have the best staff in the country.”
Chaney and Guarantano building strong relationship
Pruitt’s biggest coaching staff hire was arguably Jim Chaney, who spent the last three seasons at national title-contender Georgia.
Chaney’s track record certainly speaks for itself. Outside of helping Georgia win an SEC title in 2017 and compete for another in 2018, Chaney’s coached the likes of Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees as an offensive coordinator at Purdue from 1997-2005. He also had a successful stint as Tennessee’s play caller under former head coach Derek Dooley from 2009-2012.
The effects of Chaney’s coaching and teaching prowess have already been felt and no one stands to benefit more from them than junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.
According to Chaney, that relationship has blossomed in the nearly 8 months that he has been on the job.
“Very good, very sound,” Chaney said of he and Guarantano’s relationship. “I’ve enjoyed Jarrett. He’s going to hopefully have a good season for us, he’s hungry to do so. I think he’s a very good student of football, he’s got good aptitude. We’ve had a great relationship so far.”
Martin confident in receiving corps
There maybe questions at important positions all over the field for Tennessee, but the wide receiving group should not be one of them.
In terms of talent and experience, the Vols are set to return one of the better units in the country at wide receiver with seniors Marquez Callaway, Jauan Jennings and Brandon Johnson, as well as juniors Josh Palmer and Jordan Murphy.
Tee Martin, who spent the previous three seasons as the offensive coordinator at Southern Cal, returned to his Alma Mater to coach wide receivers on Pruitt’s staff.
Like everyone else in and around the program, Martin also has high expectations for Tennessee’s receivers and is confident in their abilities to compete against a conference full of elite defensive secondaries.
“We will lean on our experience with the seniors,” Martin said. “Those guys have played a whole lot of football, but the best guys will play. It’s a clean slate going into training camp. We’re going to compete with the best guys on the field.”
Martin even went as far as to compare Callaway to a receiver he coached during his time at USC who is now playing on Sundays: JuJu Smith-Schuster.
“Marquez (Callaway) has a skillset that’s similar to a JuJu Smith-Schuster,” Martin said. “Very intelligent, did everything on special teams, did everything on offense. Everything you ask the young man to do.
“(Callaway) is always eager to jump in and do what you ask him to do, and he loves the game. Now we just have to take that work and put it onto the field.”