The University of Tennessee’s head-coaching search has been one filled with every twist and turn imaginable over the past few weeks, but it appears to be winding down now as former head coach-turned-newly appointed Athletic Director, Phillip Fulmer — a College Football Hall of Fame member, and other officials in Knoxville are now reportedly closing a deal with Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, sources say. What some will remember, but others may not know is the local ties Pruitt has to the Sequatchie Valley.
Jeremy Pruitt, 43, is in his second season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator under Nick Saban. Long before his days coaching Crimson Tide to a number one ranking nationally in scoring defense for this season, Pruitt played ball for his dad, Dale, at Plainview High School just down the road in Rainsville, Alabama, where the elder Pruitt held the head coaching position from 1984 until he left to coach Fort Payne in 2001.
Before his time at Plainview, Dale Pruitt began his head coaching career in 1982 at Pisgah. His two teams there finished 18-4 with an undefeated (10-0) regular season in 1983. Then, beginning in 1984 at Plainview, the Bears won 164 games and lost 64 during his 17-year run as the head coach, making two appearances in the 3A state championship games and winning ten area titles until his departure after the 2000 season. In his time at Fort Payne, the team went 18-13 leading the team to their first playoff berth since 1993.
This is where our local connection starts to become clearer. After three years in the head coach’s position at Fort Payne, Pruitt left the program for another coaching opportunity and found his way to Marion County High School as head coach of the Marion County Warriors for the 2004 and 2005 seasons before returning to Plainview High in 2006 and later Albertville following the 2014 season and where he remains today.
In his two seasons at Marion County, Pruitt alongside coach David Moore (who’s still an important mainstay on the Warriors coaching staff), went 14-9 over the two seasons, but the impact a person and their family makes on the people they work with is what stands out the most in so many people’s minds.
“He was an outstanding person,” said MCHS Vice Principal Chuck Keef of Dale Pruitt.
“Dale Pruitt was a coaching legend and knew how the game worked. I feel like his son [Jeremy] will bring a lot of fresh ideas and new recruits to Tennessee to bring the Vols back,” Keef said.
Dave Daffron, the longtime voice of the Marion County Warriors who’s been calling the games from the press box and over the radio since 1982 also echoed Keef in saying that Dale Pruitt was a coaching legend.
“He was one of the nicest coaches we ever had,” he said.
“Coach Pruitt always had time to talk to anyone about the program or just football in general. He was always open to talking to Warriors fans, his fellow coaching staff, teachers, players, parents and even those of us in the broadcast booth. Most importantly, he was a strong supporter of what’s at the heart of any team — the young men that worked hard on the field. And he supported them both on and off the field.”
Daffron said what he remembered most about Pruitt’s time coaching the Warriors was the quick turnaround he made in the program.
“When he arrived, the football program at Marion County was at a very low point. Everybody wants to see a winning team and hopes the best, but many Warriors fans were just discouraged at this time. With Coach Pruitt and David Moore, the turnaround in the program was just…quick!” Daffron said.
When asked the longtime voice of the Warriors (who’s also a fan of the Tennessee Volunteers) what he thought about Pruitt’s son as the head coach of the Vols, he said he thinks Jeremy Pruitt is “just what Tennessee needs!”
“I’ve heard so many good things about him. He’s had a great teacher in his father and now he is also a great teacher of the game and that is what will help Tennessee’s program turnaround.” Daffron said.
“I never wanted Phillip Fulmer to leave the coaching position. He was a coach that connected well with the players and knew how SEC football worked. He was also a great recruiter. With Fulmer being appointed the AD and with this hire, I feel like we’ll start to see the type of Vols team we’ve been wanting to see,” he said.
“Pruitt has done an outstanding job at Alabama as the DC and, like Fulmer got there by being a good recruiter and being able to connect with the players. I never understood why we weren’t going for this defensive of offensive coaches in the first place — they’ve worked hard, come up through the ranks, and proven themselves and it’s their time to have a chance. I think we’re in good hands!”
And Jeremy Pruitt has proven himself both as a tough defensive coach and with a proven recruiting track record. He’s regarded as one of the top recruiters in the SEC has been a part of four national championship teams. He also has good “roots” in his career’s beginnings.
After playing on the field for his dad, he played for the Crimson Tide as a defensive back and later came up through the ranks of assistant coaching at his alma mater under the supervision of his father. He’s had two different coaching stints on Bama’s staff — first under Saban from 2007 until 2012 serving first as the director of player development and then as defensive backs coach beginning in 2010 before leaving to serve as the defensive coordinator at Florida State with the Seminoles’ 2013 National Championship team. In 2014 and 2015 he was defensive coordinator under Mark Richt at Georgia before returning to his alma mater for the past two seasons.
Pruitt will become Tennessee’s fifth head coach in the past 11 years, replacing Butch Jones, who was fired after going 34-27 overall and 14-24 in SEC during his five seasons with the Vols. In the meantime, Pruitt plans to stay on as the defensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide through the College Football playoffs this season, while also working in the Vols’ head coach capacity and getting their recruiting efforts underway and assembling his staff for next season.
It’s no secret that the Southeast is a football powerhouse and our own little slice of land here in the Sequatchie Valley is a “football valley” filled with talent from the coaches all the way down to the players. From all accounts, former MCHS Coach Dale Pruitt is regarded as a legend around these parts and Tennessee faithful hope to soon say the same about the Vols’ latest hire, too!