It was a story of two acts, one playing out in Atlanta, the other in Knoxville, Tenn.
For the purpose of Alabama and its College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against Clemson, the key part was the same: defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will remain in Tuscaloosa to coach the Crimson Tide through the playoffs.
Approximately 30 minutes before Pruitt’s press conference began in Knoxville to formally announce him as the new coach at Tennessee, UA coach Nick Saban sat on stage at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta alongside Dabo Swinney of Clemson, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Georgia’s Kirby Smart at the CFP coaches press conference. The first question of the night cut straight to the heart of what was relevant for Alabama football at this moment.
Would Pruitt, UA’s second-year Alabama defensive coordinator, remain with the team or leave immediately to start his new job as head coach at Tennessee?
Saban said Pruitt would do what Smart, Lane Kiffin and Jim McElwain did before him.
“Yes, Jeremy is going to finish the season with us,” Saban said. “He’s going to go do some things to get his program started at Tennessee. When we’re ready to practice, he’ll be back with us, be a part of the Playoff.
“I really appreciate the fact that Kirby did a great job of doing that a couple years ago when he had an opportunity. I think it shows a lot of respect for the players on our team who worked hard to help us all have success this season.”
Pruitt was named Tennessee’s 26th head coach earlier in the day with the formal press conference in Knoxville essentially beginning as Saban and his fellow CFP coaches were exiting the stage in Atlanta.
It is the third consecutive season Saban’s had a coordinator accept a job during the weeks between the regular season and the playoff. All three (Smart, Kiffin and now Pruitt) opted to remain with the team through the end of the season. McElwain, UA’s former offensive coordinator, did the same after accepting the Colorado State, helping lead Alabama to the 2012 BCS National Championship at the end of the 2011 season.
“Each individual handles the circumstance like this relative to how they can stay focused on two things,” Saban said. “Most of the really good coaches who have really good competitive character are always going to do what’s best for the players. I think Kirby certainly did a good job of that and I’m sure Jeremy will do a good job of that this year.”
What Pruitt will encounter that the ones before him did not is the early signing period in recruiting. The first signing period is Dec. 20. Alabama begins practice Dec. 15, meaning Pruitt will have to balance signing his first class at Tennessee while preparing his UA defense for Clemson.
“The things that Jeremy is going to have to go through is probably going to be even more challenging in regards to that,” Smart said. “’m glad, now looking back, that I did what I did, because it was the right thing to do. Certainly helped that we won the game. But it was a very challenging 30-day period, for sure.
“I was always concerned am I doing the right thing?” Smart said. “Am I doing the right thing for Georgia? Am I doing the right thing for Alabama? It’s very concerning for me because I wanted to do what was best for both. And what was best for both was to finish up what you were doing but move on with the things you had to do in recruiting.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.
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