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‘Vols Get Winner in Pruitt

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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The decision of Phillip Fulmer to hire Jeremy Pruitt reflects the model for success in today's game.

Tennessee went back to its roots in hiring long-time head football coach Phillip Fulmer to lead the program's chaotic coaching search; the former offensive guard for the Volunteers went back to the basics. On Thursday, Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was introduced as Tennessee's new leader, marking a return to the fundamentals for the Volunteers. Pruitt will come to Knoxville as one of college football's most-accomplished defensive minds, a former coordinator at Florida State and Georgia, in addition to his time at Alabama.

The defensive side of the ball is where Pruitt has made his name. Prior to the start of his coaching career, Pruitt played safety for Middle Tennessee and then the Crimson Tide. There is where Pruitt's professional trek began, as a graduate assistant at his alma mater. After climbing through the high school ranks, including developing his brand on the MTV Reality Show Two-A-Days while at power Hoover, Pruitt settled in at Alabama as, first, director of player development and then defensive backs coach.

Collegiately, Pruitt's rise was a quick one. Starting on the Crimson Tide's coaching staff in 2010, he was named defensive coordinator at Florida State in 2013, with the Seminoles leading the nation in scoring defense that fall. Pruitt took on the same role at Georgia from 2014-2015 and, correspondingly, the Bulldogs ranked 16th, then 8th, in the country. His Alabama defenses have been number one in the country in scoring defenses both years. This season's unit, holding foes to just 257.8 yards per game, is the program's best rate since 2012.     

The track for Pruitt, albeit after a shorter stint, is a similar one to Kirby Smart's. A long-time defensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide, Smart was hired as Mark Richt's replacement at Georgia and now, in year two, has the Bulldogs entering the College Football Playoff as the defending SEC champions. Pruitt was brought back to Alabama when Smart was brought in at Georgia; the orange hope is that the impact will soon be the same.

Defensive dominance has followed Pruitt everywhere he has been. That isn't the only trend. Of the eleven college football teams he has been on staff of, four of them have won national championships -- and counting. Simply put, Pruitt is a winner.

That frame of reference has been shaped by many of the game's all-time greats. Before suiting up for the iconic Stallings, Pruitt played for the great Boots Donnelly, who coached Middle Tennessee for 20 years. Pruitt spent eight seasons, in various capacities, with Saban, a coach who may go down as college football's best when it's all said and done. Additionally, Pruitt has worked under Richt, Jimbo Fisher and, dating back to his time in high school football, Rush Propst, winner of seven state championships.  

Pruitt is also a dynamic recruiter, an absolute must in the ultra-competitive SEC. His regional ties in Alabama, Florida and Georgia will be critical at Tennessee.

The decision of Fulmer, who won a national title in 1998, to hire Pruitt reflects the model for success in today's game. The top four teams in scoring defense, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Wisconsin, all rank in the national top six, with three of them in the College Football Playoff. Pruitt's pedigree is a championship one.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports