News Sentinel sportswriters John Adams and Blake Toppmeyer recap Tennessee’s 38-13 loss to Vanderbilt.
Blake Toppmeyer, USA TODAY Network – Tennessee
Here are some potential candidates to monitor:
Current job: Tennessee offensive line coach
With Helton reportedly set to leave, every member of Pruitt’s staff had worked with Pruitt before UT except cornerbacks coach Terry Fair. Two who hadn’t previously worked with Pruitt – Helton and running backs coach Robert Gillespie – are gone. So it stands to reason that Pruitt will hire someone with ties to him.
Few have closer ties to Pruitt than Friend, who was a college teammate and roommate at Alabama. They worked on staff together at Georgia for two years. Friend was UT’s offensive line coach this year after three seasons as Colorado State’s offensive coordinator.
Friend would embrace the pro-style system Pruitt seems to want. Friend was Colorado State’s offensive coordinator under coach Mike Bobo, who was Georgia’s offensive coordinator in 2014 while Pruitt was Georgia’s defensive coordinator.
Current job: Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator
Freddie Kitchens is in his first season as the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator. He hasn’t coached in college since 2005, when he was a Mississippi State assistant, and he’s never worked with Pruitt. However, he’s an Alabama native and a former Crimson Tide quarterback who was Pruitt’s college teammate in 1995-96. He was roommates with Friend and Pruitt, and they remain friends.
There’s the question of whether Kitchens would want to return to the college ranks after coaching in the NFL for more than a decade.
The Browns fired coach Hue Jackson earlier this season, leaving Kitchens’ future uncertain. Former Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has expressed interest in the Browns job and said he’d want to keep Kitchens as his offensive coordinator, if hired. At Cleveland, Kitchens is working to mold rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Current job: Alabama quarterbacks coach
Enos is a respected offensive mind in the college football world. He currently is on staff at Alabama as an associate head coach working with the quarterbacks. He has head coaching experience, running the Central Michigan program from 2010-14. He spent three years as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas after that.
Enos has shown a good ability to develop quarterbacks in his career. His balanced offensive system also fits with what Pruitt and Co. seemingly desire. He has never worked with Pruitt, but has worked with Nick Saban and a former Saban assistant in Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio.
Current job: South Carolina offensive coordinator
South Carolina’s first-year offensive coordinator had a rocky start to his tenure. But he has it cooking now, with an impressive outing last week against No. 2 Clemson.
McClendon, also USC’s wide receivers coach, worked with Pruitt at Georgia in 2014-15. He was the running backs coach at Georgia from 2009-14 and the wide receivers coach in 2015.
He could fit in at running backs coach at UT, allowing now-running backs coach Chris Weinke to slide to quarterbacks – a natural fit. But McClendon’s current situation at South Carolina appears good, especially with recent offensive performances.
Current job: Auburn offensive coordinator
Lindsey, now in his second stint at Auburn, isn’t having the best year of his career after a highly successful 2017 campaign. But, like Pruitt, he was a longtime Alabama high school coach, who moved up into the SEC ranks. Lindsey had a lot of success at Southern Miss in 2014-15, scoring lots of points and racking up yardage.
He has ties to Pruitt’s staff, having served as the Hoover High School offensive coordinator in 2007. Current UT defensive coordinator Kevin Sherrer was on that staff with Lindsey.
Lindsey served as an offensive analyst at Auburn in 2013 before heading to Southern Miss. He spent a year at Arizona State coaching quarterbacks and running the offense in 2016 before returning to Auburn.
Current job: Arizona Hotshots (Alliance of American Football) offensive coordinator
Ah, Freeze, a permanent resident of hot boards everywhere since his ouster as Mississippi’s coach before last season.
The reason to consider Freeze is obvious. He had a 49-27 record as a Division I head coach at Arkansas State and Ole Miss, and he made Ole Miss relevant in the powerhouse SEC West behind a high-powered offense. Pruitt has never coached with Freeze, but he coached against him.
But this feels like a long shot.
Freeze resigned before the 2017 season after a pattern of inappropriate conduct was revealed, including calls to an escort service. Later that year, Ole Miss got hit with NCAA sanctions for violations tied to a recruiting scandal occurring under Freeze’s watch.
SEC rules include language stating that an SEC school’s president or chancellor must consult directly with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey before considering hiring someone “who has engaged in unethical conduct as defined under NCAA Bylaws or who has participated in activity that resulted, or may result, in a Level I, Level II or major infraction.”
Al.com reported that Nick Saban tried to hire Freeze last year, but Sankey dissuaded him. If Saban couldn’t persuade Sankey, it’s doubtful UT could pull it off.
Current job: Unemployed
One of the hottest names in the nation right now, Kingsbury was fired from Texas Tech after a third straight losing season. Kingsbury is a notable offensive mind who developed Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He also played quarterback under now-Washington State coach Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 1999-2002, posting absurd numbers.
The fit from a schematic standpoint would be unique, to say the least. An interesting element to Kingsbury, though, is an overall fit. He is used to being a head coach at this point. Would joining a staff with long ties to each other be logical and comfortable? Helton, one of the few outsiders, left after a seemingly unhappy marriage.