KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Jeremy Pruitt led Tennessee to a 5-7 record in his first season as head coach. The Vols beat two top-25 teams but also lost six games by 25 points or more.
A lot can change in a year.
And for many SEC coaches a lot did change between year one and year two.
In the last 20 years, nine coaches led their teams to the SEC Championship Game in their second season as a head coach in the conference. Many had even more success, winning SEC and national championships and one even went undefeated in year two (but he had Cam Newton).
The most recent was another former Nick Saban defensive coordinator and Pruitt's former co-worker - Kirby Smart. He led Georgia to an SEC title and national championship game appearance in year two (2017) after going 8-5 in year one.
Here's the list of all nine coaches that have taken their teams to Atlanta in 'year two' in the last 20 years:
2000 - Tommy Tuberville - Auburn (9-4, +4 wins from year one) - won West
2001 - Nick Saban* - LSU (10-3, +2 wins from year one) - SEC champions
2002 - Mark Richt - Georgia (13-1, +5 wins from year one) - SEC champions
2006 - Urban Meyer - Florida (13-1, +4 wins) - SEC and National Champions
2010 - Gene Chizik - Auburn (14-0, +6 wins) - SEC and National Champions
2012 - Will Muschamp - Florida (11-2, +4 wins) - won SEC East
2013 - Gary Pinkel^ - Missouri (12-2, +7 wins) - won SEC East & Cotton Bowl
2016 - Jim McElwain - Florida (9-4, -1 win) - won SEC East & Outback Bowl
2017 - Kirby Smart - Georgia (13-2, +5 wins) - SEC Champs/Nat'l runner-up
* - Saban did it again in 2008, taking Alabama to the SEC title game in his second season in Tuscaloosa
^ - 2013 was Pinkel's 13th season as head coach at Missouri but only his second in the SEC (The Tigers moved from the Big 12 in 2012)
HOW MUCH CAN TENNESSEE IMPROVE?
Expecting Pruitt to do what those guys did in year two would be asking too much. He walked into a much worse situation than any of those nine coaches listed above. Pruitt took over a team that set the school record for most losses in a season the prior year (4-8). No one on the above list had to do that. In fact, five of those coaches inherited teams that had a winning record the prior year. And for six of them, their predecessor took the program to the SEC title game at least once.
Tennessee hasn't been to the title game since 2007. It would be a little too much to expect Pruitt to fix all that in year two. But there should be improvement.
Three additional wins would give Pruitt the best second season as a head coach at Tennessee since Phillip Fulmer, who went 8-4 in 1994 (Fulmer was interim coach for 4 games in 1992. '94 was his second full season). Derek Dooley and Butch Jones went 5-7 and 7-6 respectively in their second seasons on Rocky Top.
Other Tennessee coaches have fared much better in year two. Bowden Wyatt went 10-1, won the SEC and finished at no. 2 in the AP poll in 1956. General Neyland posted an 8-0-1 record in 1927. Doug Dickey went 8-1-2 in 1965 and Bill Battle finished in the top ten in 1971 after putting up a 10-2 record with the only two losses coming against top-five teams.
Pruitt is bringing back 10 starters on offense and seven on defense and adding in the 12th ranked recruiting class in the country. He should at least lead Tennessee to a bowl game but how much more can he do in year two?
We'll find out starting on August 31 at Neyland Stadium.