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Vols’ assistants get rare opportunity to speak to media

August 2, 2018
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Tennessee co-defensive coordinator Kevin Sherrer speaks to the media during an NCAA college football press conference on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. (Brianna Paciorka/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee co-defensive coordinator Chris Rumph used the eve of training camp to deliver an impassioned speach on the responsibility all coaches have to shape young men.

He probably won’t get a chance to deliver that message to reporters again anytime soon.

New Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt wants to serve as his staff’s sole public voice while keeping his assistants away from the media. That copies a strategy adopted by Alabama’s Nick Saban and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, two of his former bosses. Pruitt was defensive coordinator at Alabama the last two years after filling the same role at Georgia and on Fisher’s Florida State staff.

Offensive coordinator Tyson Helton, defensive coordinator Kevin Sherrer and Rumph spoke Thursday but aren’t expected to have any more media sessions the rest of the season.

“When you’re talking, you want one message,” Pruitt said. “I think if you have one message, at least you know what that message will exactly be.”

Pruitt said he appreciated that policy as an assistant coach because he could focus on football. His assistants say they don’t mind spending most of the season off limits to reporters and weren’t surprised by Pruitt’s decision.

“With the system he’s been around — that we’ve both been around — the head coach handles most of the media and the (assistant) coaches go coach,” Sherrer said.

But it did give Rumph an opportunity to show what they’ll be missing the rest of the season as he discussed the mission of coaches in helping players improve on and off the field.

“It’s more than football,” Rumph said. “It’s life. I tell them all the time, if the only thing that you learn from me is how to tackle, how to sack and all that stuff, then I’ve failed. I don’t want to just be a guy who’s going to teach you how to do that. I might as well leave.

“I want to teach them how to be a man, how to be a father, how to be a husband, how to treat your wife, how to treat your kids, how to treat people. That’s what it’s all about, man. That’s what it’s all about. If we can do that, man, this world would be great.”

Tennessee opens preseason practice Friday attempting to bounce back from a 4-8 campaign that resulted in the firing of former coach Butch Jones . Tennessee set a school record for losses and failed to win a single Southeastern Conference game for the first time since the league’s formation in 1933.

Tennessee must decide on a starting quarterback as incumbent Jarrett Guarantano attempts to hold off a challenge from Stanford graduate transfer Keller Chryst . That’s the most notable position battle on a roster that has competition just about everywhere.

“We tell guys all the time (that) you guys control who plays, we don’t,” Pruitt said. “How you perform on the practice field, how you prepare, how you work in the offseason, that’s going to dictate who plays. I think everybody here feels like they have an opportunity.”

Pruitt has assembled a staff featuring many former colleagues.

Sherrer and Pruitt worked together at Hoover (Alabama) High School from 2005-06 and teamed up again at Alabama and Georgia. Rumph was at Florida the last three seasons but worked alongside Pruitt at Alabama from 2011-12.

Helton spent the last two years as Southern California’s quarterbacks coach but got to know his new boss while recruiting Hoover when Pruitt was there. Pruitt was still at Hoover when Helton worked nearby as a UAB assistant.

“Everybody talks about coach Pruitt being a great defensive coach (but) he’s a great all-around coach,” Helton said. “Just over the eight months we’ve had a chance to sit down and talk about what’s important about offensive football, what we need to do and how we need to attack people, he brings a lot to the table in that area.”

NOTES: Pruitt said offensive lineman Trey Smith likely would be cleared for contact around Aug. 19 or Aug. 20. Smith missed spring practice due to blood clots in his lungs. ... Freshman Alontae Taylor will start training camp at cornerback. He worked out at both cornerback and receiver in spring practice. ... Pruitt said receiver Jauan Jennings will be “a little bit limited” at the start of training camp. Jennings played just one game last season before a wrist injury sidelined him for the rest of the year.

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