The long and strange Tennessee coaching saga appears to have ended with a hire: Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. There were plenty of reports of Pruitt inching towards the job throughout the day, but Knoxville radio station WNML’s Jimmy Hyams appears to have been the first to definitively report that Pruitt would accept it, followed by confirmations from Brett McMurphy, Bruce Feldman and others. So, this looks like it has in fact happened, and the question becomes what that means for both the Vols and the Crimson Tide.
Amazingly, despite all the issues Tennessee has run into during this hiring process, it feels like this could actually be a decent move for the Vols. Pruitt has been a successful coach in high school (1998-06) and in college (2007-12 as an assistant at Alabama, 2013-present as a DC at Florida State, Georgia and Alabama (since 2016)). He was a finalist for the Broyles Award (top assistant coach in college football) in both 2013 and 2016, has won three national championships (with Alabama in 2011 and 2012 and Florida State in 2013), and was named recruiter of the year by 247 Sports in both 2012 and 2013. So there’s a lot to like about him.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Pruitt will find success at Tennessee. For all the former Nick Saban assistants who have found head coaching success (including Jason Garrett, Adam Gase, Jimbo Fisher and more), others haven’t worked out so well (including both Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain at Florida, Derek Dooley at Tennessee and Mike Haywood at Miami (Ohio). So it’s not like hiring a Saban assistant is assuredly a path to victory. But still, especially considering how late in the game Tennessee is making this hire, this doesn’t seem all that bad for the Vols.
However, this could perhaps be more problematic for Alabama. It seems likely that Pruitt would go take up the head coaching job at Tennessee soon following this hire, and that means that the Crimson Tide will be without their defensive coordinator for their Sugar Bowl (and College Football Playoff semifinal) game against Clemson Jan. 1. Of course, they have other coaches on staff they can promote; options include co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi (although there’s been speculation he might follow Pruitt to Tennessee), defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar. And Saban himself is well known for his defensive acumen.
But still, last year saw Alabama make a big coaching change during the playoff, pushing Lane Kiffin out of the offensive coordinator role once he took the Florida Atlantic job and replacing him with Steve Sarkisian ahead of the title game. And that didn’t work out for the Crimson Tide. We’ll see if this goes any better for them.