Alabama Football needs defensive coaches and Jeremy Pruitt needs a job. An obvious solution is for Nick Saban to hire his former Defensive Coordinator. The solution being obvious, does not make it simple.
Jeremy Pruitt is damaged goods, from his tenure as Tennessee’s head coach and a slowly evolving NCAA investigation. Let’s review what the Vols internal investigation revealed and was submitted to the NCAA. This part of the story is simple. The school and its athletic administration made Jeremy Pruitt the fall guy.
The NCAA responded with 18, Level I allegations of impermissible benefits to Tennessee players and family members and to recruits. The total value of the payments was presented to be around $60,000.
Was (is) Jeremy Pruitt guilty of what the school’s internal investigation showed? In some of the cases, the answer is yes. That is known because Pruitt admitted them to the NCAA. One of them was a bag of cash to a player’s mother for medical bills. Others were to cover housing expenses for players’ families.
The main issue is not whether Jeremy Pruitt broke NCAA rules. The main issue is why was the school so willing to offer him up as solely responsible for everything. The answer is easy. Tennessee wanted to fire Pruitt because he failed to turn the Vols around. To fire him for his three-season, 16-19 record was going to cost Tennessee $12M and the NCAA problems gave Tennessee an out to fire Pruitt for cause, voiding the $12M buyout.
Alabama Football and Tennessee History
Many Alabama football fans have not placed close attention to Tennessee during the Crimson Tide’s long run of dominance over the Vols. Here is a short reminder. As a football program, Tennessee has been a well-known serial cheater. Much of it goes back to Phil Fulmer’s time as Tennessee’s head coach. During that era, one of the Vols’ wealthy boosters, Bud Adams flaunted his lavish spending on Tennessee players and recruits, while admitting he broke NCAA rules.
Jeremy Pruitt’s boss at Tennessee was Phil Fulmer. Maybe Pruitt broke some NCAA rules without Fulmer knowing. But believing Fulmer knew nothing is folly. In Fulmer’s career, Tennessee likely broke far more NCAA rules over the last 30-plus years than Ole Miss and Auburn combined.
The NCAA, in its Notice of Allegations, threatened its enforcement could include a show cause for Jeremy Pruitt. That is the sticking point in Nick Saban’s hiring of Pruitt. As Blake Toppmeyer recently argued, Saban should hire Pruitt anyway.
To be cautious, perhaps Pruitt should join the Crimson Tide as an analyst first. The NCAA is considering a rule change that allows analysts to do on-field coaching. Even without such a change, Pruitt would benefit the Tide staff. Or, Nick Saban could go bold and hire Pruitt to be the Defensive Coordinator. A show cause would limit Pruitt’s ability to recruit, but not to coach.
Either way, Pruitt’s contribution would be worth dealing with the baggage.
If the NCAA eventually levies serious penalties on Pruitt, the organization should hide in shame. Now that players and recruits sometimes earn millions, $60K in transgressions is little more than a pittance deserving only light punishment.