Jeremy Pruitt will be pulling double duty for the next month. The Alabama defensive coordinator was named as Tennessee’s next head coach Thursday, but that won’t stop him from coaching the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff.
No. 4 Alabama will play No. 1 Clemson on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. If the Crimson Tide wins that game it will move on to the College Football Playoff Championship Game on Jan. 8 in Atlanta.
“Jeremy’s going to finish the season with us,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said during the College Football Awards Show in Atlanta. “He’s going to go do some things to get his program started at Tennessee, and when we’re ready to practice he’ll be back with us and be a part of the playoff.”
During his introductory news conference at Tennessee, Pruitt was adamant that he will be able to balance both duties.
“I work for the University of Tennessee. I’m all in for the University of Tennessee,” Pruitt said. “Until the dead period, we are going to recruit, I’m going to work as the head coach at the University of Tennessee, and we’re going to do the best that we can to start going in the right direction.
“Now, I also have a commitment to the kids that I sat in their home with their parents and recruited them to go to the University of Alabama. Coach Saban has been wonderful to me. I wouldn’t be here today without his help. So I’m going to go back when the dead period starts and I’m going to coach those kids. Because at the end of those guys, it’s about the kids in this business. That’s why we’re here.”
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.
However, this year is unique in that teams will also have to navigate an early signing period for recruits from Dec. 20-22. When asked about the potential distraction, Saban remained confident in Pruitt’s ability to manage his responsibilities at Alabama.
“Most of the really good coaches that have great competitive character are always going to do what’s best for the players,” Saban said. “I mentioned earlier, Kirby certainly did a good job of that, and I’m sure Jeremy will do a good job of that this year.”
That’s not to say the task won’t be difficult for Pruitt. Smart was asked how he handled the situation in 2015, stating Saban did “a great job of helping with that.”
“I was always concerned, ‘am I doing the right thing,’” Smart said at the event. “Am I doing the right thing for Georgia, am I doing the right thing for Alabama? It was very concerning for me because I wanted to do what was best for both, and what was best for both was to finish up what you are doing but move on to the things you had to do in recruiting.
“With the early signing period, it creates a new dynamic. You’re trying to sign a signing class while you’re practicing. So the things that Jeremy is going to have to go through are going to be more challenging in regards to that.”
Alabama has not yet announced who will replace Pruitt as the new defensive coordinator. Saban has now had to replace coordinators in three straight seasons. While the head coach said having assistants leave creates an instant impact, he views the process as an opportunity for both sides.
“It also creates an opportunity to bring in new enthusiasm, new ideas, new people,” Saban said. “You just have to keep constantly trying to make sure that the people that you are hiring are quality people who are going to add something to add something to a positive way in the organization.”