When the coaching carousel stopped spinning after the 2017 season, UCLA gleefully hopped off, convinced they had their man.
Chip Kelly, the most coveted available coach, was on his way to Westwood. UCLA had finally swung big and made a home run hire. Florida State also drew strong reviews for swiping Willie Taggart from Oregon. Taggart had deep roots in the region and viewed FSU as a dream job. While Jeremy Pruitt didn't arrive at Tennessee with the same fanfare, he provided closure after a messy and embarrassing search, and brought strong coordinator credentials from his time at Alabama.
Kelly, Taggart and Pruitt are each only 14 games into their respective tenures, but the starts have been rocky at best. They are a combined 14-28. None led his team to the postseason in 2018, with Florida State's nation-leading bowl streak ending after 36 years. Both Pruitt and Kelly are 0-2 this season, while Taggart's team blew a big lead to Boise State and then needed a missed extra point to beat Louisiana-Monroe in overtime. While Nebraska's Scott Frost, another second-year coach whose hiring drew unanimous praise, also is struggling, his situation isn't quite as dire.
Pruitt, Taggart and Kelly all should return in 2020 -- Taggart might be the only one facing moderate job pressure -- but there's urgency for improvement. We talked with coaches and others about all three situations, what has gone wrong and whether there's hope for the rest of the season.
2019 record: 0-2
Jeremy Pruitt's Tennessee record: 5-9
FPI preseason projected win total: 7.3
FPI current projected win total: 4.2
Despite ending last season with consecutive blowout losses that prevented bowl eligibility, Tennessee entered 2019 feeling optimistic. Players knew Pruitt and his style. Promising quarterback Jarrett Guarantano returned, to be directed by respected playcaller Jim Chaney. Tennessee signed the nation's No. 11 recruiting class, confirming Pruitt's prowess on the trail.
Then, the Vols opened with arguably their worst loss in decades, falling 38-30 to a Georgia State team that went 2-10 in 2018. Tennessee went from worst loss to worst play, allowing a 64-yard completion to BYU in the final minute that set up the tying field goal (BYU won in overtime).
"It's hard to figure out how you lose that game," Pruitt said, "but then you start thinking about it."