ESPN analyst: Jeremy Pruitt 'needs to run some guys off' Tennessee football team

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Less could be more for Tennessee football, according to ESPN analyst and former Auburn football player Cole Cubelic.

New Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt has quite a challenge on his hands, and this spring “he needs to run some guys off,” according to Cubelic, who hosts a daily talk show on Birmingham’s WJOX.

“I tell people all the time that the coaching change we went through at Auburn took years off our lives,” said Cubelic, who was an offensive lineman for the Tigers when they transitioned from Terry Bowden in 1998 to Tommy Tuberville in 1999.

“What we went through in spring and two a days was the most grueling physically, mentally and emotionally trying time of my life,” Cubelic said. “They had to make sure the guys they had on that roster absolutely wanted to be a part of that football team, and the only way to do it is make them prove it.”

It’s similar to how Vols basketball coach Rick Barnes worked his players after they failed to make the NCAA Tournament in 2016-17.

“We spent time on the track running, and we did things that I haven’t done in 15 years as a coach,” Barnes said, “because we were going to find out who really wanted to be a part of this.”

RELATED: Tennessee basketball’s belief in hard work led to SEC title

Barnes referred to his team as “soft” on more than one occasion this season, and challenged their toughness at each turn.

Pruitt, wo has indicated not all of the Tennessee players are hungry and was not pleased with Tuesday’s practice, could take a page out of Barnes’ book.

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Pruitt has also said “certain guys that were recruited here might not necessarily fit what I want to do with them.”

It’s more than likely the Vols will have some attrition this spring and offseason, which could explain why Tennessee has been so aggressive adding graduate transfers.

Tennessee’s situation is not that different from what Tuberville inherited at Auburn, taking over an injury riddled team that struggled the season before and finished last in its division.

“We were a 3-win football team when he took over,” Cubelic said, “and we had a lot of guys whose character was questionable, their effort was questionable, and their leadership was questionable.”

Tuberville led Auburn to a 38-28 win over Tennessee in the 2004 SEC title game and 13-0 record. Photo by Grant Halverson, Getty Images

Cubelic has done enough Tennessee games as a sideline reporter for the SEC Network to see the parallels.

“At Mississippi State, (new coach) Joe Moorhead has to get players to understand his philosophy, devise the scheme, make sure his guys understand where and how to line up and execute the plays,” Cubelic said.

“Jeremy will have all of that to do, and his job will be more difficult because he needs to run some guys off,” he said. “We saw that with a defensive tackle who left the team. You’re not gonna be on the same page with a lot of these kids.

“Number one you didn’t recruit them, and number two they have to get rid of guys that don’t fit what they want to do. Not just physically, and not just from a talent standpoint, but mentally and emotionally.”

RELATED: Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt says ‘we don’t have any starters’ 

Tennessee’s seniors had their toughness questioned at the start of the 2017 season by an NFL scout, who surmised they were “pretty damn soft.”

Ultimately, that proved correct, with Tennessee losing many close games on account of an inability to execute in the clutch both offensively and defensively.

“ Jeremy Pruitt has to make Tennessee a tougher, more physical and mentally stable football team,” Cubelic said, “and that’s a tough job.”

RELATED: What Jeremy Pruitt said following Tuesday practice

Auburn, it’s worth noting, when from 3-8 overall and 1-7 in 1998 under Bowden and Bill Oliver, to 5-6 and 2-6 in 1999, 9-4 and 6-2 in 2000 and ultimately 13-0 and 8-0 in 2004 under Tuberville.

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