Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt’s mission is to get the Volunteers back to the status they enjoyed when his new boss was roaming the sidelines.
Pruitt took over as Tennessee’s coach Thursday, capping a tumultuous search in which Phillip Fulmer replaced John Currie as athletics director . Tennessee is coming off one of its most disappointing seasons ever and hasn’t won the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division title since 2007, the year before Fulmer was forced out as the Vols’ coach.
“There was a time and place that this university was feared among the SEC teams,” said Pruitt, who has spent the past two seasons as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. “My goal as the head football coach at the University of Tennessee is to get us back to that point.”
Nobody’s feared Tennessee lately.
The Vols opened this season in the Top 25 but finished 4-8 to set a school record for losses , as they went winless in SEC competition for the first time since the league formed in 1933. Those results led to the Nov. 12 firing of Butch Jones , who went 34-27 in five seasons.
Tennessee followed up its poor season with a tumultuous coaching search that grew more embarrassing as it dragged on.
Pruitt, who has been an assistant on four national championship teams, believes he can get Tennessee back to the heights it reached in the 1990s and early 2000s when Fulmer was coaching the team. This marks Tennessee’s fourth coaching search since Fulmer’s exit.
“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.”
Pruitt, 43, agreed to a six-year deal that will pay him $3.8 million annually plus various benefits such as an expense allowance.
He will spend this month working on his new job while also maintaining his status as Alabama’s defensive coordinator through the College Football Playoff . Pruitt said he would focus on boosting a Tennessee recruiting class that has been decimated by recent defections. When a dead period in the recruiting calendar arrives Dec. 18, Pruitt can turn his attention to Alabama.
Fulmer said he didn’t mind the fact that Pruitt will still be working with Alabama through the playoff. He said Pruitt’s playoff presence would showcase Tennessee’s program.