Sometimes you get what you deserve and unfortunately that might be the case for the powers-that-be when it comes to Tennessee Volunteer Football.

Living in Tennessee from roughly 2015-2020, I quickly became more in tune with Vols football than I ever imagined. Heck, I even covered a few games in Neyland Stadium myself during my time back in East Tennessee. At times I truly felt the pain in Vols’ fans voices every Monday. I know those feelings growing up in Clemson.

I thought back when they brought in Phil Fulmer as the AD, they were making a huge mistake. Nothing against Fulmer as a person but just didn’t see how he would transition into an Athletic Director role. At at Tennessee. It was destined to be either work beautifully or tragically. Well……

ATHENS, GEORGIA – OCTOBER 10: Head coach Kirby Smart of the Georgia Bulldogs and head coach Jeremy Pruitt of the Tennessee Volunteers converse during pregame warmups at Sanford Stadium on October 10, 2020 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

I distinctly remember fans posting on social media and calling into talk shows/radio shows pushing for UT to hire Peyton Manning as the head coach during the last search. I love the fans and their passion for the Vols. But let’s pump the brakes on giving the main headset to a guy with no major coaching experience. We’re taking Tennessee here, not East Tennessee State.

It doesn’t really feel like it but Tennessee is still a top 15 level job and has the resources to be pushing Georgia, Florida and Alabama at a more consistent clip than it has as of late. But UT just has some internal issues right now.

It is even more obvious now but man do they have some very unfit individuals calling the shots in Knoxville. Along with perhaps some some unrealistic expectations. It needs to change, and it needs to to change now. And it’s probably a good time to stop the talk of Manning as the new Athletic Director as well. Just don’t, Tennessee.

There’s already reports that Tennessee expects Manning to play a significant role in finding Jeremy Pruitt’s successor. I get it that he’s the most beloved UT football player of all time and is a major supporter of the program and university, but give me a break. What are his actual coaching credentials? Look no further than fellow SEC-East foe South Carolina for another prime example of a great, national championship winning coach (Ray Tanner) that has no business running the entire athletic department. Stick to what ya know, playa.

Evidenced by the last coaching search, Fulmer was in over his head from the jump but he’s not the only one within the UT administration that should carry the blame. I was skeptical about Jeremy Pruitt in Knoxville, but did believe– at first–he could help get them back to being a competitive program.

Vols fans might want to go ahead and postpone that Atlanta trip for AT LEAST another 3-4 years especially after news broke this week of major recruiting violations. Money in a McDonald’s bags is pretty wild. But let me be clear, we all know recruiting violations are made everywhere but MOST of the time people are little smarter about how they go about it.

Ya know….usually that means we probably shouldn’t be handing out cash to recruits in McDonald’s bags during their visits to campus. Although, this should exactly shock those who have paid attention the last few years. Pruitt has made up some ground on the recruiting trail but it did seem a bit odd how quickly recruits were flocking to Knoxville to play for a team that had shown no real signs of turning the corner as far as wins on the football field.

In 2020, Tennessee was 3-7 overall which followed an 8-5 mark in 2019. That season began with losses to both Georgia State (!!!) and BYU at home. Some were calling for Pruitt’s head then and deserving so. However, he finished that season on the up swing and there was still belief he could get this thing rolling again.

As we now know, we won’t ever get to see if he could have pulled it together in 2021 for what was certainly his do or die year. And while it’s not fair to pin this on any one individual, I also find it hard to believe Fulmer and Pruitt didn’t know this was going on. If they were truly unaware, that’s even more damning in opinion.

Just like the debacle at Ole Miss with Hugh Freeze, if it smells fishy, it probably is. Without throwing anyone under the bus I can tell you for a fact that I’ve seen recruits have a….”really good time” when in town visiting a potential school. It happens everywhere. Trust me. This is a business through and through.

But just how bad is it in Rocky Top right now? Look no further than this clip from Fulmer below discussing how well recruiting is going….

This firing is hardly a surprise and I predicted a few weeks back that the Pruitt and Fulmer era was in danger. Back then I felt it would be due to the stagnation of the program, not about Special Edition Happy Meals. I didn’t really expect Tennessee to out itself in what I assume is an attempt to cut ties with Pruitt and not have to pay his roughly $9 million buyout. So much for that recent contract extension.

Or is it?

If you’re wondering how Pruitt feels about all of this, just know the former Nick Saban understudy is ready to go to battle about these allegations and had already lawyered up.

This one could get messy, folks.

Also, It’s 2021 so you KNOW social media had plenty to say about this news and the memes and aftermath of sidebar stories about Pruitt and his troubling three years in Knoxville.

With Uncle Phil now out of the way, hopefully UT can bring in a QUALIFED Athletic Director this time to lead this coaching search. Preferably someone with no ties specifically to Tennessee. Hopefully after the last few botched hires they can get this one right and extinguish what has ultimately been a dumpster fire for the last decade.

As much as I would like to see a guy like Tee Martin get the opportunity, I don’t see it happening in the current condition of the program. I also think it could be a good opportunity to just clean house and start fresh. For now, it appears the keys will be handed to Kevin Steele for the interim. Steele was quietly hired at UT as a “defensive assistant”. He was most recently the defensive coordinator at Auburn and prior to that, Clemson. The Vols have to move fast with this due to the timing and recruiting cycle wrapping up next month, but they must also operate (very) carefully.

Only time will tell but for the sake of the loyal fans, (READ: the ones that don’t try to hijack coaching searches) I hope UT can get back on tack and return to being a staple in the top 15/20 of college football. As I wrote years ago while I was in Tennessee, I actually feel bad for most of Vol Nation. The fans and alumni deserve better but good leadership and returning to the days where Tennessee was among the elite all begin at the top.

Yes, I’m looking at you, UT President Randy Boyd. No pressure.

Dec 7, 2017; Knoxville, TN, USA; University of Tennessee Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer (left) introduces Jeremy Pruitt (right) during his introduction ceremony as Tennessee’s next head football coach at the Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Calvin Mattheis/Knoxville News Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK

Finally, here are my five potential candidates to replace Jeremy Pruitt:

  1. Kevin Steele
  2. Billy Napier
  3. Gus Malzahn
  4. Will Healy
  5. Jamey Chadwell

It’s not the sexiest list ever and considering Chadwell/Napier both had options at the end of the season and they decided to stay committed to their current jobs. I don’t see them drooling over a chance to go take over this mess in Knoxville. Healy has connections to Tennessee having coached at UTC and Austin Peay. However, I’m not sure he’s ready for a job like this and under these terms and circumstances. Malzahn is a name to keep an eye out for according to national pundits but I just don’t know if he’s the answer either. All that said, Sportsline released odds for the new head coach in Knoxville and Billy Napier (+300) leads the way early.

As for a popular name on the coaching carousel I failed to mention, I leave you with this…