Joe Osovet first met Jeremy Pruitt when the new Tennessee head coach was the defensive coordinator at Georgia. Osovet, then the head coach at Nassau Community College in Long Island and had a gifted cornerback prospect, Rasul Douglas, who was getting a lot of interest. Douglas ended up at West Virginia, but the Juco coach with the thick New York accent and the SEC defensive coordinator hit it off. Both are the quintessential football grinders. Pruitt worked his way up from the high school ranks and joined Nick Saban’s first Alabama staff as the director of player development in 2007; Osovet, the son of a carpet salesman, has spent nearly two decades at the junior college level.
In December, after he went 9–1 in his second year in charge at ASA College in Brooklyn, Osovet says he got a call out of the blue from Pruitt offering him an interview for the open wide receivers coach position on Pruitt’s staff at UT. Because Pruitt was still juggling two jobs and trying to get Alabama primed for a College Football Playoff run, he couldn’t be there in person, so new Vols offensive coordinator Tyson Helton and O-line coach Will Friend handled things. He didn’t get the job, but he did get some encouragement.
“They said I did an amazing job,” Osovet says. “Coach Pruitt said, ‘We’re not gonna hire you but I can promise you this, we’re gonna coach together one day. The entire staff had nothing but good things to say about you.’” On Tuesday, Pruitt made good on that pledge when he called Osovet back to offer him a job on the Vols’ staff as a quality control assistant. Osovet has had other opportunities, including another quality control job at the FBS level, but none that paid enough to justify uprooting his wife and two children.
This offer is different. The 44-year-old doesn’t know exactly what his role will be on the Vols’ offensive staff, but he can’t wait to get to Knoxville to get started next week. “Whatever they need me to do, I’m just excited to be a piece of the puzzle and help us win football games in the SEC,” he says. "We didn’t really touch on the specifics of it. I think I can bring something to the table from an offensive standpoint. Whatever it is, I’m just excited that I have this opportunity.”
Osovet is well-known in coaching circles around the Northeast as a creative offensive mind. “The thing that really set us apart offensively was with our [run-pass option] game,” he says. “We were 90% RPOs. It really paid huge dividends. Over the past six years, we put up 40-some points per game. In five games we put up 75 points or more. I’ve clinic-ed with Ohio State, Georgia Southern, Villanova. I think it’s pretty unique what we do. A lot of people do it horizontally. We do it more vertically from a [vertical] shot standpoint. I know now the term RPOs is taking the football world by storm, but we’ve been doing it since the early 2000s.
“In 2001, we started to do it. We didn’t call it an RPO. We called it a Secondary Manipulation. The basic concept and how we stumbled upon it was we wanted to be in 10 personnel [one running back, four wide receivers]. We always had undersized slot receivers, and there was a physical mismatch between our slots who were like 5'8" or 5'9" and the overhang linebackers who were like 6'1" or 6'2". Our slots were dynamic with the ball in their hands, but if we ran the football they’d have to block these linebackers. We were at a physical disadvantage. So we thought, if they fall into the box [to defend the run], why not throw the stick [over the middle to an inside receiver]?”
Osovet said he visited Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia and also spent time at Baylor picking up Art Briles’s offense.
“It’ll be an adjustment not being the head guy, not being able to call the plays. I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that, but I think it’ll go to a place where you might be the dumbest guy in the room for a change. I don’t have a big ego. Look at the opportunity that Coach Pruitt has given me, any way that I can help the University of Tennessee be successful, I’m willing to do it. Obviously if you work hard and do good things, your time will come and hopefully get a shot as a play-caller on the big stage.”
Don’t bet against Osovet rising up fast in the FBS world now that his foot is in the door. He’s made a lot of fans among his coaching peers, including Villanova wide receivers coach Brian Flinn, who first met him at a clinic is New Jersey. “We had been running RPOs for five years, but this was next level,” Flinn wrote to me. “In five minutes I gave up trying to write everything down. Went up to him afterwards and said you HAVE to come down to our place and talk some ball. We put in a bunch of his stuff that worked great with more down-the-field RPOs—corner routes and verticals—rather than just quick throws. I visited him last spring to watch practice at ASA in Brooklyn. It was the most reps I’ve ever seen in a practice, and we’ve been a lot of places to visit in the spring. He and Joe Moorhead were really the first two guys I’ve seen really master the teaching and reading of shot-play RPOs.
“I’m really happy for him although selfishly I’m disappointed because I can’t drive to Brooklyn any more to pick his brain.”