Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer, a former national championship coach in Knoxville, now has the man he hopes will guide the Vols to a College Football Playoff title in the not too distant future.
Fulmer is about to make Alabama defensive coach Jeremy Pruitt the next football coach at Tennessee.
It will be a strange marriage, without question.
As a player and coach at Tennessee, Fulmer learned to despise the Crimson Tide. Alabama – the state and university – to this day have ill feelings toward Fulmer about a controversy involving the NCAA.
While a storied rivalry, the Vols and Crimson Tide are on sociable terms. It was interesting to see a picture with Alabama fans holding up a large poster that read: “Everybody Hates Bama Until They Need A Coach.”
Still, multiple reports out of Knoxville, with WMNL afternoon radio talk show host Jimmy Hyams leading the way, indicate that Pruitt has accepted the Tennessee offer, believed to be for a minimum of five to six years and around $4 million annually.
Tennessee has called a press conference for 1 p.m. on Thursday to announce Pruitt’s hiring.
Fulmer has done in six days what former AD John Currie failed miserably at since firing former coach Butch Jones on Nov. 12 after a humiliating 50-17 loss at Missouri.
Currie scurried all over the country but failed miserably while trying to get Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren to succeed Jones, who was fired two games short of five full seasons at Tennessee.
Schiano was basically rebuffed by a Tennessee fan firestorm over, among other things, his link to the Penn State University sexual abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, and those fans received widespread scorn from national media.
Currie then took an unauthorized trip to the Los Angeles and spent time over lunch trying to talk Washington State head coach Mike Leach into taking the Vols’ job. The discussions didn’t last more than a few hours.
Leach went back to Washington and Currie was uncermoniously beckoned back to Knoxville and the next morning the university chancellor, Beverly Davenport , fired him.
Within hours, Fulmer was named the new AD.
Fulmer’s efforts were weighted heavily, as it turns out, toward hiring a defensive-minded coach, concentrating toward the end on Pruitt, Georgia’s Mel Tucker and Auburn’s Kevin Steele.
On Wednesday, it became apparent Fulmer was zeroing in on Pruitt.
It was being reported that Tennessee coaches on the road recruiting had been called back to Knoxville with word that Pruitt’s hiring would be officially announced Thursday.
And recruiting could be impacted immediately with Pruitt’s hiring since the first NCAA early signing period runs from Dec. 20-22. The Vols have lost several commitments from the 2018 class, including five-star offensive line prospect Cade Mays of 2017 state champion Knoxville Catholic.
Part of Pruitt’s interviews centered on the coach’s immediately starting to recruit for Tennessee while going through No. 4 Alabama’s preparation for the CFP semifinal game against No. 1 Clemson on Jan. 1 at the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma (No. 2) plays No. 3 Georgia in the other semifinal on the same day at the Rose Bowl.
The championship game would be played on Jan. 9 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Some Vol fans hoping that national championship quarterback Tee Martin would be lured from Southern Cal to Tennessee as Pruitt’s offensive coordinator, may be disappointed. Martin is not expected to be on Pruitt’s staff.
Tennessee, among other schools, is believed to be talking with former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze to be the next offensive coordinator. The next OC would replace Larry Scott, who took heat most of the season for a lackluster offense that had sub-par play at the quarterback position and offensive line.
Word is out that Fulmer has contacted former UT players Dale Jones, a linebacker coach at Appalachian State and Terry Fair, a cornerbacks coach at Colorado State, about positions on the Vols’ new staff.
The 43-year-old Pruitt, has been a head coach in the making for several years.
He was secondary coach at Alabama from 2010-12 and won two national championships. In 2013, he served as Florida State’s defensive coordinator and won a third national title. He was Alabama’s defensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017.
In his one year at Florida State, the Seminoles’ defense was ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 10.7 points per game. They were No. 3 in total defense (248.2 ypg), second in passing defense and first in interceptions with 16.
In five seasons as a defensive coordinator, Pruitt defenses were ranked first, first, eighth, 16th and first nationally in scoring defense. If you can’t score, it’s hard to beat any team. This season, Tennessee averaged scoring 19.8 points per game, which ranked 125th among 130 teams. The Vols’ scoring defense (29.1) was ranked 79th.
Pruitt was a finalist for the 2013 Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top college football assistant coach, and was a finalist again in 2016.
After the one year at Florida State, Pruitt spent two years as Georgia’s defensive coordinator before returning to Alabama.
Pruitt played college football at Middle Tennessee State and Alabama.
A native of Rainsville, Alabama, Pruitt began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Alabama and then coached high school football at Plainview, Fort Payne and Hoover high schools.
Ironically, Rainsville is less than 80 miles from Winchester, Tennessee, Fulmer’s home town.
Hard core Tennessee fans know the Vols’ roster has a lot of talent because Jones and his staffs were solid recruiters. However, they didn’t always develop the incoming talent into success on the field.
At Tennessee, Jones was 34-27 overall and just 14-24 in the Southeastern Conference, and 2017 was in many ways Tennessee’s worst season in 121 years of playing football.
The Vols were 4-8, the first time they ever lost eight games in a season, and 0-8 in the SEC for the first time since the league was formed in 1933. A 41-0 loss to Georgia in Knoxville was the school’s worst home-field setback since 1905.
Fans were furious.
And when the Massacre in Missouri occurred, Currie had seen enough and dismissed the beleaguered coach. Defensive line coach Brady Hoke was interim coach for the final two games and lost to LSU 30-10 and Vanderbilt 42-24, both in Neyland Stadium.
Only between 50,000 and 55,000 actually turned out for the season finale against the Commodores.
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)