Saban on Vols picking Pruitt as head coach: ‘I think it’s wonderful’
ATLANTA — Nick Saban will need a new defensive coordinator.
Jeremy Pruitt was named Tennessee’s head coach Thursday morning, ending the Volunteers’ whirlwind 25-day coaching search that publicly cycled through at least five candidates, featured a fan revolt on social media and, ultimately, got athletics director John Currie fired.
New Vols AD Phillip Fulmer reportedly zeroed in and interviewed three SEC defensive coordinators and former Saban assistants — Pruitt, Georgia’s Mel Tucker and Auburn’s Kevin Steele — before choosing the 43-year-old Pruitt to replace Butch Jones.
“I think it’s wonderful, and I try to help and promote our coaches so that they have an opportunity to go and become head coaches,” Saban said Thursday. “That’s what they work hard for, that’s why they do a good job, that’s why they contribute.”
This is the first head coaching job for Pruitt, a former Alabama defensive back who began his career as a Crimson Tide graduate assistant before moving up the state’s high school coaching ranks.
Pruitt has been a part of three national championship coaching staffs, including two at Alabama. He was the Crimson Tide’s secondary coach in 2011 and 2012. One season later, Pruitt’s first as a collegiate defensive coordinator, he won a national title with Florida State.
Pruitt first gained notoriety as Rush Propst’s defensive coordinator at Hoover High School from 2005-06, while the team and school was profiled on the MTV series “Two-A-Days.”
Saban lured Pruitt to Tuscaloosa one year later as the director of player development on his first Alabama staff. He served that role for three seasons before being elevated to defensive backs coach in 2010.
He was Florida State’s defensive coordinator in 2013 before leaving to assume the same role at Georgia the next season. Pruitt remained in Athens until 2016, when Saban brought him back to Alabama to replace Kirby Smart, who took the Georgia head coaching job.
Pruitt received a $300,000 raise in May that upped his total salary to $1.3 million. He was under contract through 2020 and was in line for an automatic $100,000 raise after each season he completed until then.
Tennessee gave Pruitt a six-year deal worth $3.8 million a season.
“We like to see guys get promoted,” Saban said. “It’s an opportunity for the next good guy to come along.”
Whomever it is has quite a void to fill.
Pruitt’s two Crimson Tide defenses were prolific. Both were the NCAA’s top scoring defense.
His 2016 unit permitted just 261 yards a game — tied with Michigan for the fewest in the country — and was the top rush defense in the FBS. It forced 29 turnovers, too.
Seven members of that defense were selected in the first four rounds of the 2017 NFL draft, forcing Pruitt to restock this season’s unit, which was immediately beset by injuries.
Outside linebackers Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis both sustained what were thought to be season-ending injuries in the Tide’s season-opening win against Florida State. Both returned for the Tide’s 26-14 Iron Bowl loss. Senior Mike linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton suffered a season-ending knee injury against LSU, too.
Pruitt, who coached the Tide’s inside linebackers, still produced a unit that enters the College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson ranked No. 2 in total defense.
“I think he’ll be a real good head coach, even though I don’t want to say it,” Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick joked Wednesday. “But I think he’ll be a real good head coach. He’s a real good leader and the players like to play for him, which is something that’s really important when you’re a coach. He knows how to motivate us and as a DC he’s probably one of the best that I’ve been coached by.”