Update: Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has emerged as the leading candidate for the Tennessee job, according to Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports. Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated reports that the two sides could announce a deal by Friday. Florida State’s national title-winning defensive coordinator in 2013, Pruitt has held the same job with Georgia (2014-15) and Alabama (2016-17) over the past four seasons. Should the Vols hire him, he would be the sixth former defensive coordinator leading a team in the SEC East — the third to hold that role under Nick Saban (Will Muschamp, Kirby Smart).
It has been more than three weeks since Tennessee fired coach Butch Jones. One athletic director upheaval and several swings and misses on the coaching carousel later, the Vols could finally be closing in on a new head honcho.
It appears as though Tennessee is focusing in on a trio of SEC defensive coordinators: Alabama’s Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia’s Mel Tucker and Auburn’s Kevin Steele. The latter two have already had two interviews with new Vols athletic director Phillip Fulmer, per ESPN’s Chris Low.
Pruitt in particular seems to be gaining steam as of Wednesday morning.
All three coordinators are coming off of successful seasons. All three also have ties to Nick Saban’s coaching tree.
Pruitt has done an excellent job at Alabama. The No. 4 team in the College Football Playoff led the country in scoring defense for the second straight year. The Crimson Tide defense was also No. 1 in the SEC against the run and red zone scoring conversions.
Tucker is also in his second season with Georgia. The Bulldogs, the No. 3 team in the playoff, had the SEC’s top passing defense (Tucker also coaches defensive backs) and ranked at or near the top of the conference in most defensive categories.
Steele’s story is interesting in that it features a bit more redemption. His only head coaching experience came at Baylor from 1999-2002 where he went 9-36. He was also let go as Clemson’s defensive coordinator — or left to “explore other opportunities,” depending on who you ask — after the 2012 Orange Bowl against West Virginia in which the Tigers gave up 70 points. And yet, Auburn’s defense ranks third in the SEC in points allowed per game while Steele was named a Broyles Award finalist for top assistant.
Tennessee has reportedly made overtures to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, NC State coach Dave Doeren and former LSU coach Les Miles, among others, but for one reason or another, no deals were made. One name that has been tossed around in this search is former Vols quarterback and current USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin. However, it does not appear Martin is a serious candidate for the job. Feldman reports that Fulmer and Martin have spoken and that the conversation was “positive,” but there’s little beyond that nugget.