KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee‘s circuitous head coaching search, which has taken on just about every twist imaginable, is nearing an end, as the Vols are trying to finalize a deal with Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt after offering the job to Pruitt earlier in the day Wednesday, sources told ESPN.
Pruitt, 43, is in his second season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator under Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide, headed to the College Football Playoff for the fourth straight year, are ranked first nationally in scoring defense this season and second nationally in total defense.
Pruitt is also regarded as one of the top recruiters in the SEC. As an assistant coach, he’s been a part of four national championship teams.
Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee’s former Hall of Fame coach, replaced John Currie last Friday as the Vols’ athletic director and has spearheaded the coaching search ever since. He interviewed Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker on Tuesday in New York City but told them on Wednesday the school planned to go in another direction.
Pruitt, a two-time Broyles Award finalist as the top assistant coach in college football, possesses two of the qualities Fulmer put a premium on in his search for the Vols’ next coach — a tough-minded defensive presence and proven track record as a recruiter.
Pruitt, a former defensive back at Alabama, served two different stints on the Crimson Tide staff under Saban. He was initially there from 2007-12, the last three seasons as defensive backs coach. Pruitt was also the defensive coordinator at Florida State on the Seminoles’ 2013 national championship team and was the defensive coordinator at Georgia under Mark Richt for two seasons in 2014-15 before returning to his alma mater.
The son of legendary high school coach Dale Pruitt, Pruitt was an assistant coach in the high school ranks before catching on with Alabama in 2007 as Saban’s director of player development. Both of Pruitt’s defenses as Alabama’s defensive coordinator have led the country in scoring defense. His Florida State defense in 2013 also led the country in scoring defense.
Saban, who hired Pruitt to replace Kirby Smart, called Pruitt a tremendous teacher of the game.
“He knew our defense, knew how we wanted things done because he’d been with us before and had gone out on his own and done an excellent job at Florida State and Georgia,” Saban told ESPN last year. “I’m not into comparisons, but what I will say is that he’s made it easier for our guys to play faster, more instinctive, and we’ve made very few mistakes. So much of coaching is how the kids respond, and they’ve responded great to Jeremy.”
Washington Redskins linebacker Ryan Anderson, who was recruited to Alabama by Pruitt, said one of Pruitt’s strengths is the way he connects with his players.
“He can relate to anybody, and you see that with the way guys have bought into new roles, and guys have been able to move around and play different spots,” Anderson said last year. “But the big thing he does is that he lets his dogs go hunt. There ain’t no holding back.”
Pruitt would become the fifth different head coach at Tennessee in the last 11 years. He would replace Butch Jones, who was fired after going 34-27 overall and 14-24 in SEC play in five seasons in Knoxville.