Former Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is back in the SEC East.
Pruitt, who was former Georgia head coach Mark Richt’s defensive coordinator from 2014-15, officially accepted the head coaching job at Tennessee Thursday morning. Pruitt, who was not retained when Kirby Smart took over Georgia’s football program in 2016, has been Alabama’s defensive coordinator the past two seasons.
"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," Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer said in a statement. "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."
This will be Pruitt’s first head coaching opportunity after a long career as an assistant. His first major college break came in 2007, when Nick Saban hired him to be Alabama’s director of player development. After three years in that role, Pruitt became Alabama’s defensive backs coach, reporting directly under Smart.
Pruitt left Alabama after the 2012 season to be Florida State’s defensive coordinator in 2013 and helped the Seminoles win a national championship. That would be his only season at Florida State as he was hired by Richt the following offseason.
With Georgia in 2014, Pruitt’s defense ranked sixth in the SEC at 337.2 total yards per game. In 2015, Georgia’s defense jumped to third in the conference at 305.9 total yards per game. Pruitt left the program for Alabama before the Bulldogs’ TaxSlayer Bowl game against Penn State. With Alabama a year ago, Pruitt's defense played a big part in reaching the College Football Playoff national championship game, which resulted in a loss to Clemson. The Crimson Tide are back in the College Football Playoff this year too.
Pruitt’s hiring at Tennessee ends a lengthy, and rather embarrassing, coaching search. Numerous names emerged throughout the process, including Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, who reportedly accepted the job. But Schiano, who was once the head coach at Rutgers and with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, received a fierce backlash from Tennessee fans, which forced the Volunteers to back out of the deal.
The search also led to former athletics director John Currie’s ouster, which came not too long after it was believed he was set to hire Washington State head coach Mike Leach.
Fulmer was subsequently named Currie’s replacement as athletics director.
Pruitt will take over for former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, who went 34-27 in five years at Tennessee. Jones posted a 2-3 record against Georgia during his tenure.