Tennessee hires Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt as head coach
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee has hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as its head coach, capping a tumultuous search that cost an athletic director his job as the Volunteers attempt to recover from one of their most disappointing seasons.
The school scheduled a news conference for 6:05 p.m. Thursday to introduce Pruitt.
Pruitt’s hiring comes six days after former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer was named athletic director and put in charge of the coaching search. Fulmer took over for John Currie, who was suspended just eight months into the job as Tennessee investigates whether it can fire him for cause.
Pruitt replaces Butch Jones, who was fired Nov. 12 after going 34-27 overall and 14-24 in Southeastern Conference competition in five seasons. Tennessee went 4-8 this season and set a school record for losses.
“Six days ago, I mentioned several attributes that I sought to find in the next leader of our football program, and Coach Pruitt meets all criteria,” Fulmer said in a news release. “I’m certain he appreciates the unique opportunity to lead a program of Tennessee’s caliber. He’s driven to win at the highest level. He will honor our university’s values, operate with integrity and be a role model for our student-athletes.
“I know Coach Pruitt will hit the ground running and go to work restoring our program to a championship level.”
Knoxville radio station WNML first reported that Pruitt had accepted the job.
Tennessee would love to see Pruitt match the success of Georgia’s Kirby Smart, who preceded Pruitt as the defensive coordinator on Nick Saban’s Alabama staff.
Pruitt has been Alabama’s defensive coordinator the last two years after spending two seasons in the same role at Georgia. Alabama led the nation in scoring defense and ranked second in total defense last year. This season, Alabama again leads the nation in scoring defense and ranks second in total defense .
Alabama topped the nation in run defense last season and ranks third in that category this year. Tennessee’s run defense ranked 125th out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams this year.
Pruitt also was defensive coordinator for Florida State’s 2013 national championship team, which led the nation in scoring defense. He worked an initial stint on Alabama’s staff from 2007-12, when he helped the Crimson Tide win national titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012. The former defensive back played collegiately at both Middle Tennessee and Alabama.
In the 2013 and 2016 seasons, Pruitt was one of five finalists for the Broyles Award given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.
The selection of Pruitt ends a coaching search that had become embarrassing for Tennessee as it dragged on.
Tennessee was close to hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano on Nov. 26 before that deal fell through amid a public backlash .
Reports linked Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm to Tennessee’s vacancy, but both stayed with their teams. North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren agreed to a contract with the Wolfpack on Thursday after speaking with Tennessee officials.
Currie met last week with Washington State’s Mike Leach and was forced out the next day.
Pruitt inherits a Tennessee program that is seeking to return to the prominence it enjoyed in the 1990s and early 2000s under Fulmer.
Tennessee hasn’t won the SEC Eastern Division since 2007 and hasn’t captured a conference title since its 1998 national championship season. This marks Tennessee’s fourth coaching search since Fulmer was forced out in 2008.
Tennessee opened this season in the AP Top 25 but ended up winless in SEC competition for the first time since the league formed in 1933. It closed the year with a 42-24 loss to Vanderbilt, the fourth time in the last six years the Vols lost to the in-state rival they’ve historically dominated.