According to VolQuest and other media outlets, the Tennessee Vols are hiring Mike Ekeler to fill Josh Heupel’s final on-field staff vacancy.
Ekeler, who coached with Heupel at Oklahoma in the early 2000s, has extensive experience coaching special teams and linebackers.
The newest Vols assistant was actually on staff at Georgia with former UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt, former Vols defensive coordinator Kevin Sherrer, and former Vols defensive line coach Tracy Rocker.
When Pruitt was hired at Tennessee, Ekeler was a name that was never mentioned as a potential addition to the Vols’ coaching staff.
There’s a good reason for that — Pruitt and Ekeler didn’t exactly see eye to eye.
It’s been well-documented that Pruitt’s time as Georgia’s defensive coordinator was incredibly divisive. There was a group of coaches/players who were “team Pruitt” and a group that was “team Richt”.
Ekeler fell into the team Richt category.
“I knew no one when I came here (Georgia)”, said Ekeler to Dawg Nation in early 2016. “I’d never met Jeremy Pruitt; I’d never met Tracy Rocker; I’d never met Kevin Sherrer.”
When asked directly about Pruitt, Ekeler didn’t go into extensive detail, but he made it clear that the relationship was strained.
“I would say there’s stuff that happens within a football program and a staff that really needs to stay in-house,” explained Ekeler. “I’d rather not comment on that. People there know, and that’s all that matters.”
“You could say it was one of the more difficult seasons I’ve been a part of. I think that’s fair to say,” added Ekeler.
Ekeler also seemed to subtly hint at his frustration with Pruitt when he talked about taking a job at North Texas after not being retained at Georgia.
“I want to work with people I want to work with,” said Ekeler. “I don’t want to be in rooms with people I don’t enjoy and don’t have much in common with.”
Ekeler also talked about his time at Georgia in a candid way with the North Texas Daily in 2016.
“I’ve worked at some of the greatest schools history-wise in the game,” said Ekeler. “But what it boils down to is people. You can be at the University of Georgia and be miserable if you’re working with shitty people.”
One of the incidents at Georgia involving Pruitt and Richt was documented by Dawgpost.com.
“We had a no-fighting policy,” one starting player said recalling the Pruitt meltdown. “Jordan (Jenkins) and John (Theus) got into a fight and the policy was that the fighters had to leave practice. They didn’t end up leaving. I mean, it is kind of difficult to have a scrimmage with your best two linemen out of practice. And the thing is that whenever there is a fight with the defensive line and the offensive line it is never one-on-one… it always turns into a five-on-five fight. So all of the sudden both lines are leaving practice?”
“So coach Richt tried to move forward with (Theus and Jenkins) there,” he said. “Pruitt flipped out that those two weren’t leaving. I think he tried to take a ball away or something. Then there were some choice words between the offense and defense. This really wasn’t a Pruitt-Richt thing at the core. Pruitt yelled at Richt, and then our offensive guys got involved – particularly TB (Brown).”
“He got up and took it and walked off the field with it,” said one former student assistant. “He literally took his ball and went home. Everyone thought he was joking, but he was dead-ass serious.”
Hiring an assistant that’s the polar opposite of Pruitt is probably a wise move by Heupel. Whatever Pruitt was doing at Tennessee obviously wasn’t working. So why not take a drastically different approach?
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports/AP