No big fish: Tennessee hires Pruitt

Marvin Westwestwords

Based on perception, Phillip Fulmer is doing OK as athletic director.

He selected Jeremy Pruitt, 43, as Tennessee’s new football coach. (Press conference at 6.) The defensive coordinator at Alabama is outstanding as assistants go but not exactly a famous or flashy hire. Nick Saban no longer permits fame and flash on his staff. Dearly departed Lane Kiffin was all he could stand.

Pruitt is probably the best Fulmer could do under the circumstances. Tennessee is not what it used to be. Established coaches do not come looking for our kind of problems.

That means Pruitt, Alabama through and through, was judged a better fit than several names that floated past during the John Currie segment of the search. He is very intense. He is likely to toughen up the down-trodden Volunteers. He may even restore Southeastern Conference credibility.

Alas, he is not Jon Gruden or Mike Leach or Mike Gundy or any of the sizzling stars shooting back and forth across the coaching sky. He isn’t even a retreaded Les Miles.

Jeremy has a collection of national championship rings but no head-coaching experience. There could be a consolation prize. Maybe some former Vol will be asked to integrate his staff.

Based on e-mails and phone calls and coffee shop chatter, Big Orange Country is somewhat confused. Fans and former players are grateful that Fulmer brought the ungodly search to an orderly conclusion.  They are pleased that he made the prime pick from the pool of coordinators. They wish he had caught a big fish.

Pruitt is not a giant fish, maybe mid-size, a keeper, very bright prospect. He has an excellent reputation as a recruiter. I suppose Alabama roots are a bonus.

He played high school quarterback for his dad, Dale, at Plainview, atop Sand Mountain in northeast Alabama. They won a lot of games. Jeremy’s edge was intelligence and fierce determination rather than athletic greatness.

He was a defensive back for two seasons at Middle Tennessee State. He transferred to Alabama as a walk-on. He became a graduate assistant coach. His potential was obvious.

He came home to be an assistant coach for his father. He moved to Hoover in Birmingham. In 2007, he made the unlikely leap back to the University of Alabama as director of player development. He got the first opening on the varsity staff, coaching defensive backs with Saban two steps away.

The Tide won two national championships during that appearance. He got his share of credit and rings.

He was defensive coordinator for the 2013 Florida State team that won the national title. The Seminoles led the nation in scoring defense. Good players, good coaching, another nice ring.

For two years, Pruitt was Mark Richt’s defensive coordinator at Georgia. Saban called him back. It was not sentimentality. Pruitt defenses have been among the best in the country.

Saban cooperated in this move by Tennessee. Pruitt will sleep fast and divide his work time, continuing with the Tide defense in pursuit of another national title and recruiting like crazy for the Volunteers. Fulmer called Saban to help negotiate this deal because Pruitt wanted to do both – finish his obligation to the red team while helping the orange team begin recovery.

No doubt fans of both will find this astonishing — Alabama and Tennessee working together on something. There is a simple explanation. Saban really likes Pruitt. Fulmer really wanted him.

Marvin West invites reader comments. His address is [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.