KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee introduced Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as the new head football coach on Thursday at the Peyton Manning locker room inside Neyland Stadium.
The university and Pruitt have agreed to a six-year contract with annual compensation of $3.8 million per year.
Pruitt becomes the 26th head coach in Tennessee football history.
He will take the helm of the Volunteers after cementing himself as the nation’s top defensive coordinator during stints at Alabama (2016-17), Georgia (2014-15) and Florida State (2013).
He quickly got to the point of his being in Knoxville on Thursday.
“I’m honored and humbled to be recognized as the head football coach at the University of Tennessee,” Pruitt said. “When you talk about tradition – I grew up in a small town in North Alabama, just on the Tennessee River. You grow up knowing all about the University of Tennessee – where you are running through the Power T, Smokey, the great teams that coach Neyland, coach Dickey, coach Majors and coach Fulmer put on the field.
“There was a time and place when this university was feared among the SEC teams. My goal as the head football coach at Tennessee is to get us back to that point.”
Pruitt didn’t back away from those high expectations.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we could get there,” he said. “Tennessee has done it before. Tennessee can do it again.”
Said Fulmer: “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. 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.”
Pruitt was part of three national championships (2009, 2011 and 2012) on the staff of the Crimson Tide from 2007 to 2012, and was the defensive coordinator during the Seminoles’ undefeated national championship season in 2013. He was a standout high school coach before joining the Alabama staff. He played collegiately at Middle Tennessee and the Crimson Tide.
Pruitt owns a 128-31 record as a collegiate assistant coach and is a two-time Broyles Award finalist in addition to being named National Recruiter of the Year by 247Sports in 2012.
What does he want for the Tennessee program?
“My vision for our football team is we want to be a big, fast, dominating, aggressive, relentless football team that nobody in the SEC wants to play. That's my goal.”
How do the Vols get there?
“It starts in recruiting,” he said. “We started it today, first of all, by recruiting the student-athletes on our football team. These guys realize that we want to change the culture, they're hungry and they're excited. I don’t worry about the recruits we don’t have. I focus on the ones we get. We’re gonna get guys we want.
“Recruiting is the lifeblood of any organization. We're going to start right here in this state. And we're going to start from Knoxville and work our way out. This is going to be our state. We're going to go out and create relationships, because that's what it's all about, this is still a people business. And we're going to do it and start as soon as this meeting is over with. So I'm probably going to be short, so that I can get to work.”
What’s his plan for new recruits once they get to Knoxville?
“In this day and time, we have to coach everything with our guys. We're going to coach them how to go to class, how to introduce themselves to their professors in their classes, because I think that's important. We're going to coach them where to sit in the classroom. How to take notes. We're going to coach them on the field, and we're going to coach them in everything they need to do here at the university. The staff needs to have guys that have leadership ability. We're going to do that. They're going to be good recruiters, and they're going to be loyal to the University of Tennessee.”
And speaking of staff.
Pruitt must have had a staff-in-waiting list prepared for when his first head coaching venture came around. It appears that Southern Cal passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tyson Helton will join Pruitt in Knoxville. So will Colorado State offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Will Friend, Colorado State defensive back coach Terry Fair, a former Vol and current running backs coach at UT Robert Gillespie.
Georgia linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer very well could be Pruitt’s defensive coordinator. Tracy Rocker and Chris Rumph, who was expected to stay on the Florida staff of new head coach Dan Mullen, is leaving the Gators to join Pruitt at Tennessee.
In the SEC, Pruitt said it’s important to be able to run the football when you want and throw it when you want. He’s going to be looking for from his new offense.
Defensively, there’s only one way to approach that side of scrimmage and Tennessee fans have to be thrilled at Pruitt’s idea of defense in today’s college game.
“We want to create an aggressive style of defense,” he said, “where we dictate what the offense does. We aren’t going to sit back on our heels. We aren’t going to back off of wide receivers. We are going to walk up to the line of scrimmage and challenge our opponents. Every inch that the other team gets is going to be challenged.”
For Fulmer to hire Pruitt in a week’s time since becoming the Vols’ AD, especially after the debacle Tennessee’s coaching search went under former AD John Currie – that’s too painful to rehash here – is just short of a miracle.
Obviously, Pruitt had the desire to become a head coach, but leaving a program like Alabama that challenges for a national championship every year under Nick Saban, is difficult to put in the rear view mirror.
Here is why Pruitt is now at Tennessee.
“I want to challenge everyone that is associated with the University of Tennessee. I'm going to tell you this, you didn't draft me. I chose to be here. I told the players today that they chose to sign with the University of Tennessee. With what we want and where we want to go, we are talking about championships. Instead of us talking about what we want, let's talk about how to get there. It's going to take everyone that is associated with this university.
“My goal is five years from now when I stand back up here, is for everyone to still be this excited. That's my goal. I'm challenging everybody who is associated with this university. Let's get our hands out of our pockets. Let's roll our sleeves up. Let's get ready to get in the streets with everyone else in the SEC. That's what we have to do to be successful. If we want to get what we want, we have to outwork everyone. Let's not talk about it. Let's go do it. It starts today. Everyone associated with it, let's get ready to go get what we want."
Pruitt said he will recruit for Tennessee until the NCAA “dead period” starts (Dec. 18, it ends on Jan. 11) and then he will return to Alabama and help the Crimson Tide prepare for the CFP semifinal matchup against No. 1 Clemson on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl. The national championship game will be played on Jan. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
He has coached 34 NFL draft picks and 11 first-team All-Americans. The list of players coached by Pruitt reads like a who’s who of college football’s top defensive players this decade and includes 2016 Butkus Award (nation’s top LB) winner Reuben Foster, National Defensive Player of the Year Jonathan Allen, top 10 NFL draft picks Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd, Mark Barron and Dee Milliner, and current NFL stars Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Dre Kirkpatrick, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith.
The Rainsville, Ala., native served as the defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach during his second stint with the Crimson Tide in 2016 and 2017, leading an Alabama team that topped the nation in scoring defense and advanced to the College Football Playoff both seasons.
Pruitt’s 2017 defense leads the nation in scoring, allowing only 11.5 points per game, and ranks second in total defense, giving up only 257.8 yards per contest. Six Crimson Tide defensive players earned All-SEC honors in 2017, the most among any team in the conference, with defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and defensive lineman Raekwon Davis garnering first-team honors.
In his first season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator, Pruitt led arguably the most dominant defense in college football in 2016. The Tide led the nation in scoring defense (13.0 ppg) and rushing defense (63.9 ypg), while ranking second in total defense by two yards (261.8 ypg). The Tide also led the nation in defensive touchdowns with 11. Pruitt coached the aforementioned Foster to consensus first team All-America honors and the Butkus Award after finishing the season with 115 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and five sacks, while Allen earned unanimous first-team All-America honors and won the Chuck Bednarik Award (nation’s top defensive player), the Vince Lombardi Award (nation’s top lineman), the Ted Hendricks Award (nation’s top defensive end), and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (nation’s top defensive player).
Prior to his return to Alabama, Pruitt was the defensive coordinator for two seasons at Georgia, guiding the nation’s No. 1 pass defense in 2015 and leading a squad that finished in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense, pass defense and total defense in 2014.
The 2015 Bulldogs’ defense ranked seventh nationally in total defense, allowing 305.9 yards per game, third in red zone defense (.676) and in first down defense (189), seventh in pass efficiency defense (104.99) and eighth in scoring defense (16.9 ppg).
Pruitt’s 2014 Georgia defense ranked fifth nationally in passing yards allowed (170.4 ypg) and was fourth in the country in turnover margin (+1.23).
During his stint in Athens, Pruitt coached five future NFL Draft picks and four all-conference selections.
Pruitt’s first defensive coordinator job came at Florida State in 2013 where he also coached the defensive backs. The Seminoles led the nation in scoring defense (12.1 ppg), pass defense (156.6) and interceptions (26) en route to a 14-0 record and the BCS National Championship. In total, a staggering 11 players from FSU’s 2013 defensive were selected in the NFL Draft.
Pruitt joined the Alabama staff in 2007 as the Director of Player Personnel following a successful run as a high school coach at prep powerhouse Hoover High School and under his father, Dale Pruitt, at Fort Payne High School and Plainview High School.
Pruitt played collegiately at Middle Tennessee and Alabama, serving as a two-year starter at safety for the Blue Raiders, before transferring to Alabama and playing in 16 games as a reserve defensive back for Gene Stallings. He was a member of the 1996 SEC Western Division Championship team that won the Outback Bowl.
He got his first taste of coaching as a student assistant at Alabama in 1997 before entering the high school coaching ranks. He also coached defensive backs at West Alabama for a season in 1999 when he earned his bachelor’s degree.
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)