One catch: Bama’s season isn’t over. The Tide have a Sugar Bowl Playoff semifinal against Clemson on New Year’s Day, and it sounds like Pruitt will be there.
Tennessee still hammering out final details with Jeremy Pruitt, but both sides expect him to be officially announced as the Vols' head coach on Thursday. I'm also told the plan is for him to pull double duty and stay on as Alabama's DC through the College Football Playoff.— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) December 7, 2017
It’s not so uncommon for hired-up head coaches to stay onboard for bowl games at their previous schools. Pruitt isn’t even the only guy doing it this year, as Nebraska coach Scott Frost is going to try to coach UCF in its Peach Bowl against Auburn.
Alabama’s gotten used to just this circumstance, with mixed outcomes.
This is the third year in a row that’s seen a Bama coordinator get a head coaching job on the eve of the Tide’s Playoff run. That was defensive boss Kirby Smart in 2015 (off to Georgia) and OC Lane Kiffin in 2016 (to FAU). Georgia named Smart its coach on Dec. 7, and FAU introduced Kiffin on Dec. 13. That left Smart about three weeks of doing double-duty before the Playoff started, while Kiffin had two and a half.
Smart appeared to handle the situation well. His defense pitched a shutout in a blowout of Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl semifinal on New Year’s Eve. Deshaun Watson’s Clemson put up 40 on the Tide in the title game, but Bama won that game anyway, and Watson’s greatness was more a factor than any Alabama problems. Smart topped off the country’s No. 6 recruiting class at UGA in February, too.
Kiffin’s lame-duck experience was worse. Alabama’s offense was uncharacteristically sluggish in a Peach Bowl semifinal win against Washington. The Tide scored 24 points and averaged 5.1 yards per play, their second-lowest output of the season in both.
Nick Saban planned to keep Kiffin on as his OC through the entire Playoff, but Saban cut ties with Kiffin after the semifinal win. He installed analyst Steve Sarkisian as his coordinator for the title game, and Sarkisian weirdly went away from the running game in the second half as Alabama blew a lead and lost to Clemson.
Sarkisian left for the Falcons shortly after the season. Bama’s offensive coordinator now is Brian Daboll, formerly of the Patriots.
This happens when your assistants get lots of head coaching jobs and you happen to be Nick Saban and in the Playoff every single year.
At UT, Pruitt becomes the fourth Saban assistant currently leading an SEC program. The others are Smart, Will Muschamp at South Carolina, and Jimbo Fisher. (Muschamp and Fisher were never Bama coaches but worked with Saban at LSU years earlier.) Another ex-Saban hand, Jim McElwain, was in the league before Florida fired him.
Saban’s as versed as anyone in how to manage an assistant who’s trying to win a national title at one school and lay foundations at another. We’ll see how this one goes.