By Cody Dowler
Rainsville native and Plainview graduate Jeremy Pruitt has worked his way up college football’s coaching ranks to say the least.
The man who started out as a local elementary school P.E. teacher accepted his first head coaching job at the collegiate level with the Tennessee Volunteers on Thursday.
Pruitt’s main goal on Rocky Top is to get the Vols back to being one of the SEC’s top-tier programs, a feat that hasn’t been achieved since back when Tennessee’s new athletic director, Phillip Fulmer, was roaming the sidelines with the Vols.
“There was a time and place that university was feared among the SEC teams,” Pruitt said Thursday at his introductory press conference. “My goal as the head football coach at the University of Tennessee is to get us back to that point.”
Pruitt agreed to a 6-year deal with an annual compensation of $3.8 million per year.
He becomes Tennessee’s 26th head coach after cementing his status as one of the country’s best defensive minds in previous stints at Alabama, Georgia and Florida State.
Pruitt first joined the Crimson Tide as their director of player development a decade ago and was a part of three national championship teams in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
He then became the defensive coordinator at Florida State and helped lead the Seminoles to an undefeated national championship season in 2013.
Pruitt then moved on to Georgia for the next two years. His 2014 defense finished in the top 20 nationally in pass defense, scoring defense and total defense. His 2015 squad sported the country’s No. 1-ranked pass defense.
Pruitt then then brought back to Tuscaloosa where he replaced current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart as the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator.
Last season, Pruitt’s defensive group was arguably the most dominant in the nation. The Tide’s 2016 defense led the country in scoring defense, rushing defense and in defensive touchdowns.
Pruitt’s 2017 defense, which he will still coach throughout the College Football Playoff, leads in scoring defense again. They’ve only allowed 11.5 points per game, including giving up no offensive points to Pruitt’s new team when the Tide bashed the Vols 45-7 on the third Saturday in October.
“He is hard-working, dedicated and organized with exceptional knowledge of the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said in a statement. “He is an excellent recruiter who does a great job developing players and earning their respect. He will do a great job at Tennessee and we wish him the best.”
Pruitt owns a 128-31 record as a collegiate assistant coach and is a two-time Broyles Award (Assistant coach of the year) finalist and was also named National Recruiter of the Year by 247Sports in 2012.
He has coached 34 NFL draft picks and 11 first-team All-Americans, including top-10 picks Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd, Mark Barron and Dee Milliner.
Despite Tennessee’s struggles to stay competitive in the SEC over the past decade, Pruitt believes he can get the Vols to reach new heights on the field.
“Your expectations aren’t near what mine are,” Pruitt said. “I’ll tell you right now, my expectations are to win every game we play. That’s the expectation I have.”