TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is the new head coach at Tennessee, the university announced Thursday. This will be Pruitt’s first head coaching job as he looks to replace Butch Jones who was fired on Nov. 12 after going 34-27 over five seasons.
Pruitt, 43, will be introduced by Tennessee chancellor Beverly Davenport and director of athletics Phillip Fulmer during a news conference Thursday at 5:05 p.m. CT in the Peyton Manning Locker Room.
"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. "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."
It’s uncertain whether or not Pruitt will continue out his role at Alabama for the remainder of the season or move on to Tennessee immediately. Last season, former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin coached in the Peach Bowl after accepting a head coaching job at Florida Atlantic. However, he left prior to Alabama’s appearance in the national championship game against Clemson. Former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart remained with the Crimson Tide for its entire championship season in 2015 despite taking the head coaching job at Georgia.
No. 4 Alabama plays No. 1 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 as part of the College Football Playoff. If Alabama wins, it will move on to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Jan. 8.
Pruitt has been Alabama’s defensive coordinator since 2016. Before that he served as the defensive coordinator at Georgia from 2014-15 and at Florida State in 2013. He also had a previous stint at Alabama where he served as the Crimson Tide’s secondary coach from 2010-12.
Alabama ranks No. 2 in the nation in total defense, allowing just 257.8 yards per game this season. Last year, in Pruitt’s first year in charge of the defense, the Crimson Tide finished tied for No. 1 in the nation, allowing 261.8 yards per game.
Pruitt’s success this season is particularly impressive given how hard Alabama’s defense has been hit by injuries. The Crimson Tide has suffered significant losses to several key defenders including four to the linebacking unit alone.
Pruitt is one of four former Nick Saban assistants serving as head coaches in the SEC. He joins Georgia’s Kirby Smart, South Carolina’s Will Muschamp and newly-hired Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M. Former assistant Jim McElwain agreed to part ways with Florida in October. Saban is 11-0 in his career against former assistants.
With Pruitt gone, one possible replacement would be Tosh Lupoi who is in his third year as Alabama’s outside linebackers coach. Lupoi is currently making $950,000 per year, more than most defensive coordinators. In fact, according to a list of salaries released by USA Today earlier this year, he would actually rank No. 73 among college head coaches.
Since Lupoi started coaching the outside linebackers in 2015, Alabama has led the nation in sacks the past two seasons with 54 in 2016 and 52 in 2015. However, Lupoi's lofty salary is also based on his recruiting ability. He is viewed as one of the Crimson Tide’s top recruiters and was named Rivals Recruiter of the Year during 2010 while serving as the defensive line coach at California.
Lupoi, 35, started his coaching career at California, his alma mater, where he became the youngest full-time coach in Cal history at the age of 26 in 2008. After serving as the Bears’ defensive line coach for four years, he worked as the defensive line coach and defensive run game coordinator at Washington from 2012-13. He then joined Alabama’s staff as a defensive analyst for a season before taking over the outside linebackers.
Another name being discussed is Georgia outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer who coached alongside Pruitt at Georgia. Sherrer, 44, served as the defensive coordinator at South Alabama in 2013 before moving to Georgia in 2014. He has also worked under Saban, serving as Alabama’s director of player development from 2010-12. Pruitt and Sherrer also coached together at Hoover High School from 2005-06 when Pruitt served as the defensive coordinator and Sheerer as a defensive assistant.
A native of Oneonta, Ala., Sherrer was a tight end for the Crimson Tide from 1993-95. He graduated from Alabama in 1996 with a degree in physical education and later served as a graduate assistant from 1998-2000, assisting on defense while also helping to coordinate scout teams, video breakdown and on-campus recruiting. He later earned his master's degree in higher education administration from the school in 2000.
Like Lupoi, Sherrer is viewed as one of the best recruiters in the SEC. He has also experienced plenty of success on the field. This season, Sherrer has helped coach a Georgia defense that ranks No. 4 in the nation, allowing 270.9 yards per game.
How Tennessee finally got its man
After going a dismal 4-8 and 0-8 in the SEC, Tennessee let go of Butch Jones and the hunt was on. However, the search for a new coach had been so unsuccessful that it was even jokingly rumored North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un even turned down the job.
The story began to pick up steam when Tennessee appeared to have hired Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. However, the school received incredible backlash, even White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made a public comment on Facebook criticizing Tennessee for hiring someone with ties to the Jerry Sandusky abuse case.
After the deal died with Schiano, Tennessee was looking to hire Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, but Gundy turned down a contract worth $42 million to stay in Stillwater, Okla. Then Tennessee went after Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm, but it’s unclear if there was any truth to that, so the next coach in line was N.C. State’s Dave Doeren who also turned down the job.
Then Tennessee turned to Washington State head football coach Mike Leach, who reportedly had a great meeting with then Tennessee athletic director John Currie, the deal was blown off as Currie was removed from his position and Phil Fulmer took over the athletic director position as well as the football coaching search on Dec. 1.
According to Volquest.com, Fulmer had second interviews with Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and Pruitt, who was eventually dubbed as the next head football coach.
Pruitt was also a recent finalist for the Mississippi State head coaching position, but the Bulldogs hired Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead on Nov. 28.