Tennessee football: What hiring Kevin Steele means for Jeremy Pruitt’s future

Alabama DC hire Kevin Steele. (USA Today)
Alabama DC hire Kevin Steele. (USA Today) /

Jeremy Pruitt gains an excellent coach on his Tennessee football staff in Kevin Steele.

The Tennessee football program adds an outstanding defensive-minded coach and recruiter in Kevin Steele, but what does this mean for incumbent head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s future in Knoxville?

ESPN’s Chris Low reports the former Auburn Tigers defensive coordinator will be joining his alma mater’s coaching staff this year as a position coach. Steele had spent the last five seasons down on The Plains as a part of Gus Malzahn’s staff. However, new Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin opted to hire former Vanderbilt Commodores head coach Derek Mason over retaining Steele.

Pruitt and Steele has a previous working relationship as part of Nick Saban’s coaching staff with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Interestingly enough, Steele was one of three finalists for the Tennessee job back in 2018 when athletic director decided to go with Pruitt as Butch Jones’ successor in Knoxville. Could Steele be an in-house candidate to replace Pruitt in 2021 or 2022?

Jeremy Pruitt has no choice but to win now that Kevin Steele is in the building

Pruitt might be on the way out anyway, as the Tennessee football program is in the midst of an investigation regarding recruitment allegations. Tennessee has not won the SEC East since 2007 and the Vols are coming off a terrible 3-7 season in 2020. It may have been an SEC-only schedule, but Tennessee had the talent to be at least three wins better than this. Pruitt let the team down.

Overall, it is going to take something akin to an eight-win season for Pruitt to get a fifth year as the Tennessee head coach. Going with Steele in the interim is a possibility if Pruitt fails in the coming season. Then again, Tennessee could be in a world of trouble with the alleged recruiting violations. It may be very difficult to attract a quality head coach if Pruitt is ousted at some point.

Two outside candidates would include Liberty Flames head coach Hugh Freeze and Coastal Carolina Chanticleers head coach Jamey Chadwell. Freeze had success in the SEC previously at Ole Miss, but it ended poorly in Oxford him due to scandal. Chadwell is an East Tennessee native, so maybe the possibility of leading the Vols could be too good to pass up if he is offered the gig.

Adding Steele makes Tennessee a better program, but it is up to Pruitt to find a way to win big.

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