KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The University of? Tennessee's circuitous head-coaching search, which has taken on just about every twist imaginable, is nearing an end, as the Volunteers are finalizing a deal with Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, sources told ESPN.
Tennessee expects to announce Pruitt as its football coach on Thursday, and a news conference to introduce him is planned for later in the day. Sources told ESPN that Pruitt plans to stay on as Alabama's defensive coordinator through the College Football Playoff, while pulling double duty as the Vols' head coach and spearheading their recruiting efforts and putting together his staff at Tennessee.
Pruitt, 43, is in his second season as Alabama's defensive coordinator under Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide are ranked first nationally in scoring defense this season and second nationally in total defense. Pruitt also is regarded as one of the top recruiters in the SEC. As an assistant coach, he has been a part of four national championship teams.
Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee's former College Football Hall of Fame coach, replaced John Currie on Friday as the Vols' athletic director; he has spearheaded the coaching search ever since. Fulmer interviewed Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker on Tuesday in New York. Fulmer notified Tucker on Wednesday that the school was going in a different direction.
Pruitt, a two-time Broyles Award finalist as the top assistant coach in college football, possesses two of the qualities that Fulmer put a premium on in his search for the Vols' next coach: a tough-minded defensive presence and a proven track record as a recruiter.
A former defensive back at Alabama, Pruitt served two different stints on the Crimson Tide staff under Saban. He initially coached in Tuscaloosa from 2007 to 2012, the last three seasons as defensive backs coach. Pruitt then was the defensive coordinator at Florida State on the Seminoles' 2013 national championship team, and he was the defensive coordinator at Georgia under Mark Richt for the 2014 and 2015 seasons, before returning to his alma mater.
The son of legendary Alabama high school coach Dale Pruitt, he was an assistant coach in the high school ranks before catching on with his alma mater in 2007 as Saban's director of player development. Both of Pruitt's defenses as Alabama's defensive coordinator have led the country in scoring defense. His Florida State defense in 2013 also led the country in scoring defense.
Saban, who hired Pruitt to replace Kirby Smart, called Pruitt a tremendous teacher of the game.
"He knew our defense, knew how we wanted things done, because he'd been with us before and had gone out on his own and done an excellent job at Florida State and Georgia," Saban told ESPN last year. "I'm not into comparisons, but what I will say is that he's made it easier for our guys to play faster, more instinctive, and we've made very few mistakes. So much of coaching is how the kids respond, and they've responded great to Jeremy."
Washington Redskins linebacker Ryan Anderson, who was recruited to Alabama by Pruitt, said one of Pruitt's strengths is the way he connects with his players.
"He can relate to anybody, and you see that with the way guys have bought into new roles, and guys have been able to move around and play different spots," Anderson said last year. "But the big thing he does is that he lets his dogs go hunt. There ain't no holding back."
Pruitt would become the fifth different head coach at Tennessee in the past 11 years. He would replace Butch Jones, who was fired after going 34-27 overall and 14-24 in SEC play in five seasons in Knoxville. Under Currie, Tennessee was close to hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano in late November, but the deal fell through because of backlash from fans and supporters.
Fourth-ranked Alabama plays No. 1 Clemson in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day.
It would be the third season in a row that Alabama has dealt with losing a coordinator before playing in the College Football Playoff. Two years ago, Smart was named Georgia's new coach before helping the Crimson Tide win their fourth national title under Saban. Last season, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was named Florida Atlantic's coach and then was relieved of his duties by Saban only a week before Alabama lost to Clemson 35-31 in the College Football Playoff National Championship.