KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt wasted no time after capturing his fourth national championship in the last seven years on Monday night.
After wrapping up his obligations as Alabama’s defensive coordinator in the Crimson Tide’s 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia, Pruitt was back in his office at the Anderson Training Center in Knoxville by lunchtime on Tuesday.
It’s been a whirlwind month for Pruitt, who juggled recruiting for Tennessee and game-planning for the College Football Playoff after being named the Vols’ 26th head coach on Dec. 7.
“I’m excited to finally be in Knoxville and getting started,” Pruitt said on Wednesday in his first press conference as the UT head coach since his introduction to Rocky Top last month.
“It’s been a long time coming for me. Since the opening press conference, we’ve kind of had a whirlwind, trying to hire a staff, get started in recruiting, and I think the staff that we’ve put together so far, which we’re still working on it, I’m excited about the guys that we’ve hired. These guys have done an excellent job while I’ve been away, along with (Director of Athletics) Phillip Fulmer.”
Pruitt is still completing his staff, but he confirmed several hires. The Tennessee athletic department will have an official release on the new assistant coaches in the coming days.
Pruitt, who also did a television interview that will air on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show, was very complimentary of Fulmer, who was named Tennessee’s Athletic Director on Dec. 1, as well as his Alabama boss, Nick Saban, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher and Miami (Fla.) head coach Mark Richt. Pruitt served as the defensive coordinator at Florida State under Fisher in 2013 before working in the same role under Richt at Georgia in 2014 and 2015.
Pruitt thanked Fulmer for letting him finish what he started at Alabama. He is looking forward to relying on Fulmer, who led the Vols to the 1998 national championship, as a sounding board.
“I knew that anytime I had any questions, I knew that whenever I needed advice, I knew that was probably as good a guy in the business that I could go lean on and talk to,” Pruitt said of Fulmer. “Especially the fact that he’s been here before. I told the players last night, there are no perfect coaches, there are no perfect players and there never will be, so we’re always learning.”
Pruitt held a team meeting Tuesday night. He will continue assembling his staff and, of course, recruiting with the Feb. 7 Signing Day fast approaching.
The Vols signed 14 student-athletes in the December Early Signing Period, including seven or eight who will be early enrollees and in class for the current semester that began on Wednesday.
“We had 14 guys that signed at mid-year,” Pruitt said. “Out of those 14 guys, we have now seven that are here, and we still have one that’s waiting on a bit of paperwork to get here. We have to finish up this class, and I’m looking forward to doing it. We also need to start on the 2019 class and the 2020 class.”
On Monday night just after 8 p.m., Pruitt was directing the defense for the national champions in Atlanta.
Less than 24 hours later, it was back to his head coach role. Pruitt addressed his Tennessee team and began building the foundation for the 2018 fall season.
“Last night we had an opportunity to meet with the team for the first time, kind of setting the groundwork for our expectations for the coming semester and offseason program,” Pruitt said. “Everybody was all smiles, they always are the first meeting. But we’re excited to get started.”
Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt Press Conference Transcript
On his communication with the players that decided to enter the NFL Draft:
On what his biggest challenge is stepping into head coaching role:
On any roster moves and status of wide receiver Jauan Jennings within the program:
On what attributes he was looking for in his assistants:
On assessment of quarterbacks playing in the National Championship game:
On having Phil Fulmer as athletic director through the process of balancing two jobs:
On what the last 48 hours have been like for him with the transition to his new position as Tennessee’s head coach:
On his excitement level for recruiting and if it is different from that perspective as a head coach now coming from being a coordinator:
On how important the line of scrimmage will be in recruiting:
On how he kept his championship week discussions with former Georgia assistant Kevin Sherrer from being awkward and if the two have been able to talk about the game since:
On what Jimbo Fisher said to him after the championship game:
On if there was a point that it sunk in that the dual roles were over and he just had to worry about Tennessee:
On if it’s natural for him to be able to turn the page so quickly:
On balancing scouting the current roster and the needs in recruiting:
On where Coach Brian Niedermeyer will coach on offense and the ideal makeup he’s looking for in an outside linebacker:
“The outside linebacker position for us … first of all when we’re recruiting linebackers we want what I would say [is a] four for four guy. We have a SAM, MIKE, WILL and JACK. Well to me if we’re going to recruit a linebacker the best guys that we can recruit could play all four positions. For instance you take a guy like Don’t’a Hightower. At Alabama he played MIKE linebacker but on third down he rushed the quarterback at outside backer. He first year with the Patriots he played for them as an outside linebacker, now he’s been playing in the league for several years as an inside backer. You look this past year at the injuries that we had [at Alabama] at the linebacker position, we were fortunate that we had recruited guys that were four for four guys. They had the ability to play inside or outside so it helped us when it came to depth when we lost all these guys during the year. For us, we’re looking for guys that if they’re going to be outside backers we need guys who can rush the quarterback, who can change the game there. They’ve got to have ability to drop out in coverage some, not much, but we would also like to sign guys at that position that can stack back have the instincts to play inside backer.”
On how pleased he is with the class his staff has been able to put together in such a short window and what positions still need to be addressed the most:
“As far as where we’re going from here, I don’t think that would be very smart on my part to let everybody know what we’re looking for, so we’ll just keep that a secret right now. We’re going to try and recruit the best players that we can find that fit what we’re looking for to build a championship team.”