During his media availability on Monday, Tennessee head football coach Jeremy Pruitt announced that Jeremy Banks had been reinstated to the Tennessee program. This announcement confirmed rumors that had been circulating for some time. The Vols will return a player in Banks that was well liked in the Tennessee locker room before his dismissal. Banks is also a versatile talent that could help the Vols in several positions of need this fall, and the energy that he brings on both sides of the ball will be a welcome addition wherever he lines up. This case also gives a wider look at Jeremy Pruitt as a head coach running a program as he wants it done. Specifically, the reinstatement of Banks illustrates the unique way that Jeremy Pruitt handles discipline on his football team.
Pruitt has been faced with multiple, serious discipline issues to face in his brief tenure as head coach of the Vols. To Pruitt’s credit, he has certainly appeared to make the right decisions on the cases he has been presented. That has been thanks in large part to the fact that Pruitt has looked at every case presented to him on an individual basis. This is a vast departure from the uniform policy that Butch Jones kept in place during his time in Knoxville, where any incident resulted in an indefinite suspension until exoneration. Pruitt was first presented a case of what to do with one of the players that had been dismissed from the program by the interim staff leftover from Jones as soon as he arrived in Knoxville. Jauan Jennings had made headlines when he famously ripped into Butch Jones and his staff for lying to players and not knowing what they were doing in a profanity laden Twitter rant. Interim Coach Brady Hoke dismissed Jennings from the team, despite the fact that many Tennessee fans agreed with the injured Jennings. Pruitt and new Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer decided that an interim coach and failed AD should not have had the final say in deciding the future of a player they would not oversee the next season. Pruitt created what he described as a difficult path for Jennings to rejoin the team, even saying that he did not expect Jennings to complete it. Jennings did do all that was asked of him, was reinstated, and went on to be one of the most beloved and productive Vols in recent history. Time and other stories from his peers, along with the fact that Butch Jones is still officially an intern for Nick Saban at Alabama, have given further credibility to the statements Jennings made about former Tennessee coaches.
It has not all been redemption stories for players under Pruitt though. Earlier this off season, Tim Jordan was dismissed from the team after he was arrested on firearms and drug possession charges in his home state of Florida. Similarly, rising senior Emmit Gooden was dismissed from the Tennessee program the same day that felony assault charges were filed against him. Jordan has been a solid contributor for the Vols for two seasons, but Gooden was thought of as the best defensive linemen on the roster. Gooden was a certain starter for the Vols, well liked in the locker room, and expected to be an on and off field leader for Tennessee in the 2020 season. His immediate dismissal showed that Pruitt will be harsh in dealing with discipline when it is warranted, regardless of the quality of player.
For players like Darrel Middleton and Bryce Thompson, Pruitt has shown that he is willing to let the legal process play out when the situation warrants it. Although Thompson did serve a suspension, it was a brief one. Many in the media, both local and national, demanded that Thompson be dismissed from the team, but Pruitt took the beating from the press and let the legal situation play out. Time proved that Pruitt’s stance was the right one, when the charges against Thompson were dismissed in court. Similarly, Darrel Middleton had charges leveled against him this offseason. Pruitt elected to wait on the legal system with Middleton, and he was again rewarded for his stance when the charges against Middleton were dropped as well. The case with Banks was an initial situation where Pruitt faced a media firestorm to dismiss a player, but the coach seemed determined to give Banks a second chance. When a second video emerged of Banks days later, Pruitt was left with no choice but to dismiss the sophomore. Now, Pruitt has given Banks a plan similar to that which Jennings was asked to follow. Like Jennings before him, Banks has completed his path to return and seems to be exceptionally grateful for the opportunity.
Banks should factor in the for the Vols in the inside linebacker position, where rising sophomore Henry To’oto’o is surrounded by talented newcomers and inexperience. Pruitt was high on the potential that Banks had as a linebacker, commenting last season that he felt Banks could be one of the best he had ever coached. That is high praise from a coach like Pruitt and the defensive players he has produced. Banks could also factor in as a replacement for the departed Jordan. The Vols will enter the season looking for someone to step up as a power, short yardage back. That was the role that Banks earned himself as a freshman, and had it not been for ball security issues, a role he likely would have held on to.
The Vols will return a talented player and fan favorite before his incidents in Banks. They also continue to gain a reputation as a program with firm rules, but one that is also willing to give grace and a second chance. Early last season it looked from the outside that Jeremy Pruitt was struggling with being a head coach, but also with building a program to his vision. Somewhere between the Florida and Georgia games in 2019, Jeremy Pruitt took a step as a coach, and he has continued to grow in the role since. In a time when many communities have been riven, let alone football locker rooms divided, Pruitt and his staff have appeared thoughtful and genuine in the way they have handled difficult situations. The result has been a tight locker room, a united front coming from the team, and a program that is growing in Pruitt’s vision. This case-by-case discipline policy, with room for both harsh punishments and a chance for redemption, has proved effective for Pruitt. It has not only left him on the right side on his decisions thus far, but it has contributed to a positive culture and tight locker room.