University of Alabama

Alabama makes the expectation official as Jeremy Pruitt becomes defensive coordinator

The worst kept secret in SEC football was that Kirby Smart would go to Georgia as head coach. The second worst kept secret was answered this week when Jeremy Pruitt came from Georgia to Alabama as Smart’s replacement.

It is interesting to see the number of news outlets claiming to have predicted correctly that Jeremy Pruitt would be returning to Alabama as the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator.

Let’s see. He had been successful for the national championship Florida State Seminoles in a national championship year and his Georgia defenses ranked high nationally in his three total years as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at those schools. He previously played and coached at Bama. He is generally credited with having recruited Derrick Henry to Alabama. Finally, Alabama Coach Nick Saban has a history of bringing former assistant coaches back to his staff.

Thus when Kirby Smart left Bama to be head coach at Georgia, Pruitt’s name was the first to surface as his likely successor. On Friday it was confirmed that Pruitt had been hired as Alabama’s new defensive coordinator.

But there are questions.

Not of great concern, but some curiosity, is that Smart could have kept Pruitt at Georgia, and Pruitt was on record as saying he wanted to stay with the Bulldogs (where he was earning $1.3 million per year). Kirby, who had worked with Pruitt at Alabama, did not keep him.

Of more interest is what Pruitt is going to do in terms of position coaching. Although Smart was known as a secondary coach, he had spent two stints – including this season – coaching linebackers. Barring some other changes on the Crimson Tide staff, Bama has Mel Tucker coaching safeties and Saban coaching cornerbacks.

Former Alabama Coach Paul Bryant believed “a good coach can coach anywhere” (i.e., former center Sylvester Croom coaching linebackers). Saban has had men coaching non-traditional positions, so perhaps he intends to have Pruitt or Tucker coach linebackers. One thing is certain: Saban has a plan.

Pruitt has been reported as already recruiting for Alabama. Does that mean he will be defensive coordinator for the upcoming Cotton Bowl game – the College Football Playoff semifinal – against Michigan State on Dec. 31? Earlier it had been reported that Smart would continue as the Tide’s defensive coordinator through the remainder of the Alabama season, and that seems to be still the case.

Even though Saban has said, “This is Kirby’s defense,” Saban has more than passing familiarity with it, so the Tide should be fine.

The official announcement revealed little.

“We are excited to announce that Jeremy Pruitt has rejoined our staff at Alabama as defensive coordinator,” Saban said. “He did an outstanding job in the six years he was with us and did the same at Florida State and Georgia after that. Jeremy is obviously an excellent defensive coach, and also does a great job in terms of recruiting and developing relationships with players. We're pleased and happy to have Jeremy and his family back in Tuscaloosa.”

Pruitt joins the Alabama staff after spending two seasons as defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Georgia. He leaves the Bulldogs with the Georgia defense ranked eighth in the nation in total defense, allowing 298 yards per game, and leading the nation in passing defense (146.1 yards per game). Pruitt's 2015 Georgia defense currently ranks eighth nationally in total defense, allowing 298.0 yards per game, leads the nation in passing yards (146.1 yards per game). Georgia ranks second nationally in red zone defense (.645), third nationally in first down defense (173), eighth nationally in pass efficiency defense, and ninth nationally in scoring defense (16.9 ppg).

But Georgia faced only three Southeastern Conference teams with winning records, and Pruitt’s defense struggled in those games. Against Alabama, Tennessee and Florida, Georgia gave up an average of 437 yards and 34.3 points.

In 2014, Pruitt's Georgia defense ranked 17th nationally in total defense (337.2 ypg), fourth nationally in turnover margin (+1.23), and fifth in passing yards allowed (170.4 ypg).

Pruitt served as both defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Florida State in 2013 as part of a staff that led the Seminoles to an undefeated season and the 2013 national championship. That Seminoles defense ranked first nationally in scoring defense (12.1 ppg), second in team passing efficiency defense, third in total defense (281.4 ypg), and 18th in rushing defense (124.8 ypg).

"This is a special opportunity for me to come back to The University of Alabama," Pruitt said. "Growing up in the state and having played and coached here, I have a great appreciation for Alabama football. Coach Saban's success speaks for itself and I wouldn't be where I am today without the chance he gave me to join his staff back in 2007. We are excited to get back to Tuscaloosa and be a part of one of the outstanding programs in college athletics."

Pruitt previously served on the Crimson Tide staff for six seasons (2007-12), coaching the Tide defensive backs from 2010-12. In that role, Pruitt mentored several notable Crimson Tide stars including safety Mark Barron and cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie, and Dee Milliner. Pruitt originally joined the Alabama staff as director of player development in 2007.

From 2004-06, Pruitt enjoyed a successful stint as an assistant coach at Hoover High School. At Hoover, he served for three seasons as defensive backs coach with the final two as the defensive coordinator. He tutored a defense that helped the Bucs reach the Class 6A State Championship in 2004, 2005 and 2006, winning titles in 2004 and 2005. Pruitt served as an assistant coach under his father, Dale Pruitt, at Fort Payne High School from 2001-03. Pruitt began his coaching career as a student assistant coach at Alabama during the 1997 season, where he worked under defensive backs coach Curley Hallman. After one year on the UA staff, Pruitt joined his father’s staff at Plainview High School as defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator in 1998 and 2000. He spent one season as defensive backs coach at the University of West Alabama, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1999.

During his collegiate career, Pruitt played at both Middle Tennessee and Alabama. He began his career at Middle Tennessee under legendary coach Boots Donnelly, where he was a two-year starter at safety and cornerback for the Blue Raiders. After his sophomore season, Pruitt transferred to Alabama where he played two seasons under Gene Stallings. As a junior, Pruitt played in nine games and recorded seven tackles. As a senior, Pruitt played in seven games as a backup defensive back and was a member of Alabama’s 1996 SEC Western Division Championship team that beat Michigan 17-13 in the Outback Bowl in Tampa. A two-time (1991 and 1992) all-state defensive back, Pruitt helped Plainview High School to a 48-8 record during his four-year career.

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