Phillip Fulmer has never been all that popular in Alabama, to put it mildly. On the field, he was the last Tennessee football coach to have any sort of success against the Crimson Tide, leading the Volunteers to seven straight Third Saturday in October wins from 1995 to 2001. Off the field, Fulmer ratted out Alabama to the NCAA and the SEC over recruiting violations and told a grand jury that a Crimson Tide booster had paid $150,000 to the coach of a top high school prospect in exchange for the player’s commitment to Alabama. As a result, the Crimson Tide got a two-year bowl ban and five years of probation.
It got to the point that Fulmer refused to attend 2004 SEC media days in Birmingham, both because he feared for his safety in the state and wanted to avoid a subpoena from attorneys representing a former Alabama assistant coach who was suing the NCAA and wanted his testimony.
Alabama has gotten all sorts of revenge on Tennessee since Fulmer was forced out as coach in 2008, winning nine straight in the series (11 straight if you include Fulmer’s last two seasons), claiming four national titles and watching the Vols fade into comparable irrelevance. But now Fulmer is back as Tennessee’s athletic director, and his first major action can either be viewed as a shot across Alabama’s bow or, as SEC Country’s Mike Griffith puts it, “the white flag going up”: Tennessee has hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as its new coach.
And Pruitt isn’t some mere hired gun brought in from afar by Nick Saban: He’s a born-and-bred Alabamian — the son of a legendary high school football coach in the state — who spent two of his four college seasons with the Crimson Tide under Gene Stallings. (Pruitt also played two seasons at Middle Tennessee.) He started his coaching career as a Crimson Tide graduate assistant in 1997, returned to Alabama for another stint as an assistant in 2007 and then returned again in 2016 as the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator.
Pruitt has two kids, and good money says “roll” and “tide” were among the first 10 words they learned.
No matter Pruitt’s provenance, it’s a pretty good hire for Fulmer, who was brought in after the coaching search by predecessor John Currie went horribly, laughably awry. Alabama had the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense and No. 2 total defense this season, and Pruitt is gunning for his fifth national-title ring as a Crimson Tide assistant. (He reportedly will stay on Saban’s staff through the College Football Playoff.) He’s a two-time finalist for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant, and seen as a strong recruiter.
Now all Pruitt has to do is return the Vols to relevance after about a decade in the wilderness — no small task, considering his former team is going to pop up on the schedule every year. But Fulmer seems to think an Alabama man is right for the job.
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