Before spending three unsuccessful seasons at Tennessee, compiling a 16-19 record during a tenure that ended when an investigation by the school led to his ouster due to the finding of a number of NCAA rules violations, Pruitt was a successful defensive coach with a number of big-time college programs.
I turned to Terry Lambert of SB Nation’s Tennessee website, Rocky Top Talk, to learn more about Pruitt. Here is what Lambert said, via e-mail:
I was actually a big fan of Pruitt, at least on the defensive side of the ball. He just turned out to be in over his head as a head coach. His coaching decisions, particularly in the clock management and quarterback management department were atrocious. He meddled (supposedly) in the offensive decisions, which just made everything worse.
But the guy can flat out coach up some defense, especially when he’s only focused on that side of the ball. His players on that side of the ball loved him, and his reputation as a defensive developer landed Tennessee several top notch recruits. We all figure he’ll be back as an SEC DC at some point, but there’s a rumored show-cause penalty coming his way. In my opinion, Pruitt would crush it as an NFL DB/LB coach. Or even as an analyst. He’s got a ton of ties with that staff (Judge/Burns/Sherrer/Fitzgerald), so it should be a natural fit for him.
Pruitt took a roster that lost six DBs in 2018 and created a respectable secondary unit by the end of the year. He took two four-star athletes and plugged them in at corner, one of which declared for the draft this year (Bryce Thompson).
Tennessee went from 83rd in total defense in 2017, to 77th in 2018, to 23rd in 2019.
He’s stubborn. He’s old school. He was coaching high school football a little over a decade ago in Alabama. Good football coach, just doesn’t have the stuff to be a head guy.
Pruitt’s hiring isn’t yet official. His exact role isn’t known, either, though it makes sense to think he would slide seamlessly into the outside linebacker role Bret Bielema vacated to take the head coaching job at Illinois. It also makes sense because inside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer was Pruitt’s defensive coordinator at Tennessee in 2019, meaning the two have a working relationship.