KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee is close to finalizing a deal with Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt that would make him the Volunteers’ next head football coach, according to multiple reports Wednesday night.
ESPN reported just before 10 p.m. that the two sides were “in the process of trying to finalize a deal.”
National college football reporter Brett McMurphy reported that Tennessee assistants have been informed to come back from recruiting trips in anticipation of Pruitt being announced.
If Pruitt is hired, it would put an end to a nearly month-long saga that began when John Currie, Tennessee’s athletic director at the time, fired Butch Jones on Nov. 12 with two games remaining on the schedule in Jones’ fifth season.
Since then, the university has tried to hire multiple coaches and gone through an athletic director transition — former Vols football coach Phillip Fulmer took over Friday — making Tennessee a national punchline.
Still, Pruitt would bring an impressive track record to Knoxville. The 43-year-old native of Rainsville, Ala., about 60 miles southwest of Chattanooga, has engineered the nation’s second-best defense this season after his 2016 Crimson Tide defense was ranked first nationally.
Alabama is the No. 4 seed for the College Football Playoff and will face top-seeded Clemson in the Sugar Bowl national semifinal on New Year’s Day. It was unclear if Pruitt would remain with the Tide through their postseason.
Pruitt’s first collegiate defensive coordinator job came in 2013, when he was hired at Florida State. The Seminoles won the national championship and ranked third in the country in total defense under his leadership.
Just eight days after Florida State’s national title, Pruitt surprised many when he took the defensive coordinator job at Georgia under head coach Mark Richt, replacing Todd Grantham. Georgia ranked 17th nationally in total defense under Pruitt’s direction in 2014 as the Bulldogs went 10-3. The defense improved to seventh nationally in 2015 as Georgia again went 10-3.
Richt was fired at the end of the year, but Pruitt landed in a familiar spot and arguably with a better job.
Richt was fired at the end of the year, but Pruitt landed in a familiar spot and arguably with a better job. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart took the head coaching job at Georgia, and Alabama coach Nick Saban called Pruitt back to Tuscaloosa to replace Smart.
Saban even made the hire before the Tide’s national semifinal in the 2015 season.
“When it’s a no-brainer, I don’t know that there is a process,” Saban said at the time. “What does ‘no-brainer’ mean to you? I’ll define it — there was no doubt about who I was going to hire. I didn’t interview anybody. I didn’t talk to anybody. I just hired the guy.
“He worked here for six years. Maybe I should have called some people to find out how good he was and get some recommendations.”
When Saban took over at Alabama in 2007, he hired Pruitt away from a job at Hoover High School to be Alabama’s director of player development. Pruitt served in that role for three years before he was promoted to defensive backs coach. He served in that role from 2010 to 2012 before going to Florida State.
Pruitt is originally from Rainsville, Ala., just 60 miles southwest of Chattanooga. He played for his father, Dale Pruitt, at Plainview High School and led Plainview to a pair of state runner-up finishes in 1991 and 1992.
From there, Pruitt played two season for Middle Tennessee State before transferring to Alabama and playing for Gene Stallings as a backup defensive back.
He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Alabama in 1997 and had stints as an assistant for his dad at Plainview, a stop on the staff at Division 2 West Alabama and a few years at Fort Payne High School before he went to Hoover in 2004.
The Hoover High School football program became the subject of MTV’s “Two-A-Days” show that followed the team for the 2005 and 2006 seasons. The show featured Pruitt, who was the defensive coordinator at the time.
Pruitt and his wife, Casey, have a young son named Ridge. Pruitt also has a son named Jayse who is a reserve quarterback at Jacksonville State.
Dale Pruitt is now the coach at Albertville High School, which is about 90 miles southwest of Chattanooga.
Contact David Cobb at [email protected].