The Checkerboard Mailbag 4.0

Welcome to The Checkerboard Mailbag 4.0. It’s been a minute, as life has gotten in the way over the last couple of weeks thanks to a bachelor party, moving out of my college apartment and into a new apartment, being in a wedding, my car being totaled and strep throat. 

But we’re back and I’m ready to rock. As always, feel free to send me questions you would like answered or topics you would like for me to discuss. You can find me at @benmckee14 on Twitter. Let’s chop it up.

SEC Media Days

Last Wednesday, Jeremy Pruitt ventured to Atlanta for his first SEC Media Days as a head coach. The trip was a huge success for Pruitt, winning over fans and some national media members.

Pruitt didn’t impress by displaying himself as a used car salesman, but rather by being honest and being himself. Something national media members and fans begged for from the former head coach.

From a head coach’s perspective, media days is a pain in the you know what. The No. 1 objective is to get in and out without becoming the topic of discussion on Finebaum. Basically, do the complete opposite of what Larry Fedora did at ACC Media Days. 

On the surface, Pruitt’s trip to Atlanta was a success simply because he didn’t say anything absurd that made national news. The trip turned into a wild success when he responded to criticism of his time at Georgia and when he took the podium.

In an interview on 102.5 The Game, former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray expressed his doubt of Pruitt’s ability to be a head coach saying, “I don't know if his personality is fit to be a head coach. As a head coach, there's so many things that go into it. It's not just going out there and coaching. You have to deal with the front office. You've got to go talk with the president of the university. You have to deal with boosters. You have to deal with the offense, the defense. It's not just going in there ... and scheming up... When he was at Georgia, the way he acted, the way he treated Coach Richt, I thought was poor. He needs to prove to me that he can handle the whole ship. For right now, I don't think he can.”

"Fifteen years ago, I was a kindergarten teacher, and now I'm the head coach at Tennessee," Pruitt told reporters at SEC media days when asked about Murray’s jab. "You probably don't make that ascension without knowing how to treat people.”

Now, I wish Pruitt’s response would have been something along the lines of, “Well, ya know, last time I saw Aaron, he was coming up short against my defense in the SEC Championship Game. But I hope he’s doing well, aight?” A man can dream, right?

A Steve Spurrier like jab would have been perfect, but the response was perfect as is. It was short and to the point, and he came out looking like the bigger person. There’s no need to throw jabs with a former Mark Richt player who is only interested in taking up for his head coach. If anything, Murray should be sending a gift basket to Pruitt for lighting a fire under Georgia’s butt and making the program what it is today.

As for Pruitt’s time at the podium, the common fan couldn’t tell it was Pruitt’s first go-round. He was calm, cool and collected, answering just enough of the question to satisfy the fans without divulging more than he needs to. 

Ryan Thaxton

On Monday afternoon, it was reported by Austin Price of that redshirt freshman linebacker Ryan Thaxton had been dismissed from the team. Thaxton’s dismissal comes after the Virginia native was arrested on July 15 and charged with domestic assault and false imprisonment.

According to a report from the Knoxville News Sentinel, the arrest followed an incident with Thaxton’s girlfriend. Thaxton allegedly pushed her towards his dorm room when she wouldn’t accompany him to his room. He then carried her inside his room and following an argument, blocked the door so that she was not able to leave.

After suspending him indefinitely on Wednesday, Pruitt moved quickly, kicking him off the team. Clearly, Pruitt made the right decision here, but we’re still in wait-and-see mode as to how he’ll handle these situations going forward. It’s easy to kick a player off the team who doesn’t impact in between the lines on Saturday. What happens when it’s a star player? That’s not to diminish Pruitt’s decision, but we’re still learning about the first-year head coach every day.

“We’re not gonna condone it,” Pruitt said at SEC Media Days. “We’re not gonna, you know, tolerate it.”

What you need to know: 

Brant Lawless

Former four-star defensive lineman Brant Lawless has received a release from his national letter of intent with Tennessee. As one of two signees yet to report, the Nashville native had been signed with the Vols since December, but academics prevented Lawless from arriving in Knoxville.

At one point, Tennessee held commitments from Lawless, D’Andre Litaker and Greg Emerson. All three being in-state four-star defensive lineman. With Lawless and Litaker moving on, Emerson was the only one that the Vols were able to get on campus. 

Trey Smith

At SEC Media Days, Pruitt stated twice that offensive lineman Trey Smith would be back with the team this fall and is ready to go for fall camp. Smith, Tennessee’s best player, had previously missed all of spring practice due to an undisclosed injury.

"First of all, our medical has done a fantastic job recognizing Trey's situation back during the spring, which he had to miss," Pruitt said. "Trey's got great reports. He's been doing everything that he's supposed to do, and we'll be excited to have him back this fall.”

J.J. Peterson

Tennessee is optimistic that four-star linebacker J.J. Peterson, the diamond of Pruitt’s first recruiting class, will be on campus for the beginning of fall camp on Aug. 3. Peterson was unable to enroll back in May due to required academic work that still needed to be completed.

Pruitt “absolutely” expects for Peterson to be on campus for fall camp. "He's got a few things he's cleaning up that we're waiting on to get some information back, and we expect to see him in August," Pruitt said during media days.

According to Tennessee’s roster, Peterson will wear No. 40 once he arrives.

Number of the week: 5

Only five more Saturday’s to make it through without college football. FIVE. Tennessee starts fall camp on Aug. 3.

Quote of the week: “He (Butch Jones) was a pathetic carny barker.”

Thank you, Paul, thank you. Finebaum didn’t hesitate to roast the former Tennessee head coach on SEC Now last week during SEC Media Days. 

“A year ago, Butch Jones was disingenuous and thin-skinned. He was a pathetic carny barker, and he’s now gone. Tennessee fans want to see a real coach up there, and they have a real coach,” Finebaum said. “They also have a real athletic director. The man who should’ve been hired in the first place and was passed over in spite of everything Phillip Fulmer has done for this university. I think for the first time in a long time, Tennessee is back on the right track.”

Have a blessed week and remember to spread love and peace. Talk to y’all on Friday.