Tennessee Vols secondary coach Willie Martinez made a comment on Thursday that shows a major difference between the current UT staff and the Jeremy Pruitt era.
Martinez, who previously coached at UT from 2013-2016 under Butch Jones, was asked why he thinks Tennessee’s defensive backs have done a good job this offseason of getting lined up and making key identifications.
The Tennessee assistant said it has a lot to do with experience and leadership.
Player leadership, specifically, is something that Martinez thinks is a must if the Vols are going to have any sort of success in 2021 and beyond.
“I think having good leadership in the room and I think if it’s not player-driven, you’ve got no shot,” said Martinez.
This comment directly contradicts what Pruitt preached during his time as Tennessee’s head coach.
Pruitt wasn’t necessarily against a player-led team, but he didn’t think it was a required characteristic of a successful team, either.
I’ve coached on teams and there’s been one individual, didn’t matter if he played offense or defense, when he said let’s go, it affected both sides of the ball…I can tell you that there’s been two teams that I have coached that the coaching staff were the leaders of the team,” said Pruitt in early 2018. “And we won national championships with those teams. The coaching staff had to say ‘let’s go’.”
Pruitt essentially said it didn’t matter if it was player-driven leadership or coach-driven.
Martinez, however, is saying that it has to be player-driven.
So who is right?
Despite what Vol fans think about Pruitt, he was part of a couple of national championship-winning teams. So it’s not like he has no clue what he’s talking about.
But at the same time, I think it’s worth noting that Pruitt’s best team at Tennessee — the 2019 team — was led by wide receiver Jauan Jennings. When Jennings left, there was a severe lack of player leadership and it showed on the field.
It’s hard to argue against Pruitt’s credentials as an assistant coach — though it’s hard to believe that championship teams at Florida State and Alabama didn’t have strong team leadership — but I tend to agree with Martinez’s assessment that player leadership is an essential trait of a successful team.
Featured image via Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK/Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics