NEW ORLEANS — All was normal at the Alabama staff meeting. Outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi read off a list of recruits with whom Nick Saban needed to set up calls. Lupoi went name by name, but then stopped even though there were more left. Saban pushed him to continue.
Too bad Tennessee’s new head coach was in the room.
“Tosh just kind of paused, and I said, ‘Tosh, do you need me to leave the room?’” outgoing Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said Friday. “Everybody kind of got a kick out of it.”
There’s no bad blood between Pruitt and Alabama. He was officially hired by Tennessee on Dec. 7 after spending the past two seasons commanding Alabama’s defense. His job with the Crimson Tide isn’t over yet either. There’s at least one more game left on the schedule, perhaps two if Alabama can defeat Clemson on Monday in the Sugar Bowl.
Pruitt did spend some time at Tennessee before the early signing day more than a week ago to work on recruiting but returned to Alabama as soon as his job there was done.
“It was normal the first day I walked back in,” Pruitt said.
And his focus returned to the Crimson Tide.
As far as the Alabama players are concerned, it was like nothing had changed. Pruitt was his normal self, showing his usual work ethic and enthusiasm. Just like he said: normal.
“He’s still all-in on this team until the season is over,” Alabama defensive back Ronnie Harrison said. “So we just respect him for it and we appreciate him.”
They’re happy for him, too.
“We are all very excited for the opportunity he and his family have at the University of Tennessee,” Alabama defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne said.
Still, it is Tennessee, one of Alabama’s most historic conference rivals. The two teams will face off Oct. 20 next year, but the game will not require Pruitt to return to Bryant-Denny Stadium. Not next season at least. He did agree to a six-year contract with Tennessee, so it is bound to happen anyway.
No one is looking that far ahead yet. Some just look far enough ahead to crack jokes with Pruitt about his next gig.
“I just chant ‘Rocky Top’ and all that,” Harrison said. “But I’m just messing with him.”
No harm. No foul.
There’s an understanding that has stemmed from respect. Pruitt said he has a very close relationship with the players. He has been with this team for two College Football Playoff appearances. He feels he owes it to them to finish what he started, and that includes best preparing the defense to demolish Clemson.
“I just want to say this: I’m excited about being the head football coach at Tennessee,” Pruitt said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity, a great university and I’m thankful to have it.
“But right now I’m working as a defensive coordinator at Alabama.”