Alabama football needs a defensive coach and Jeremy Pruitt needs a job. One obvious solution is for Nick Saban to hire his former defensive coordinator. The fact that the solution is obvious does not make it easy.
Jeremy Pruitt is marred by his tenure as Tennessee head coach and a slowly evolving NCAA investigation. Let’s see what Vols’ internal investigation found and submitted to the NCAA. This part of the story is easy. The school and its athletic department made Jeremy Pruitt a scapegoat.
The NCAA responded with 18 Level I allegations of improper benefits for Tennessee players and family members, as well as recruits. The total value of the payments was reported to be around $60,000.
Was (is) Jeremy Pruitt guilty of what the school’s internal investigation found? In some cases the answer is yes. This is known because Pruitt accepted her into the NCAA. One of these was a bag of cash for medical bills given to a player’s mother. Others should cover housing costs for the players’ families.
The main issue isn’t whether Jeremy Pruitt broke NCAA rules. The main question is why the school was so willing to put him in charge of everything. The answer is simple. Tennessee wanted to fire Pruitt because he couldn’t turn over the Vols. Firing him for his three-year 16-19 record would cost Tennessee $12 million, and the NCAA troubles gave Tennessee an opportunity to fire Pruitt with cause, voiding the $12 million buyout.
Alabama Football and Tennessee History
Many Alabama football fans didn’t pay much attention to Tennessee during the Crimson Tide’s long dominance over the Vols. Here’s a quick reminder. As a football program, Tennessee was a well-known serial cheater. Much of this dates back to Phil Fulmer’s time as Tennessee head coach. During this time, one of the Vols’ wealthy boosters, Bud Adams flaunted his lavish spending on Tennessee players and recruits while admitting to violating NCAA rules.
Jeremy Pruitt’s boss in Tennessee was Phil Fulmer. Perhaps Pruitt broke some NCAA rules unbeknownst to Fulmer. But to think that Fulmer knew nothing is folly. In Fulmer’s career, Tennessee has probably broken far more NCAA rules than Ole Miss and Auburn combined in the last 30+ years.
The NCAA, in its statement on allegations, threatened that their enforcement could involve show-cause for Jeremy Pruitt. That’s the crux of Nick Saban’s hiring of Pruitt. As Blake Toppmeyer recently argued, Saban should still hire Pruitt.
To be on the safe side, Pruitt might want to join the Crimson Tide as an analyst first. The NCAA is considering a rule change that will allow analysts to train on the field. Even without such a change, Pruitt would benefit Tide employees. Or Nick Saban could be bold and hire Pruitt as defensive coordinator. A show cause would limit Pruitt’s ability to recruit but not coach.
Anyway, Pruitt’s contribution would be worth taking care of the luggage.
When the NCAA eventually issues serious penalties against Pruitt, the organization should hide in shame. Now that players and recruits are sometimes making millions, $60,000 in violations is little more than starvation wages worthy of light punishment.