KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Volunteers finally have their new football coach.
After a circuitous head-coaching search that took on just about every twist imaginable, the Vols hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt on Thursday. Pruitt signed a six-year contract that will pay him $3.8 million annually.
"There was a time and place that this university was feared among the SEC teams," said Pruitt. "My goal as the head football coach at the University of Tennessee is to get us back to that point."
Pruitt, 43, is a two-time Broyles Award finalist as the top assistant coach in college football. He possesses two of the qualities that new athletic director and former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer put a premium on in his search: a tough-minded defensive presence and a proven track record as a recruiter.
"Six days ago, I mentioned several attributes that I sought to find in the next leader of our football program, and Coach Pruitt meets all criteria," Fulmer said in a statement. "I'm certain he appreciates the unique opportunity to lead a program of Tennessee's caliber. He's driven to win at the highest level. He will honor our university's values, operate with integrity and be a role model for our student-athletes.
"I know Coach Pruitt will hit the ground running and go to work restoring our program to a championship level."
The Vols introduced Pruitt as their 26th head coach at a news conference Thursday evening.
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) December 7, 2017
"Your expectations aren't near what mine are," Pruitt said. "I'll tell you right now, my expectations are to win every game we play. That's the expectation I have."
Pruitt will stay on as Alabama's defensive coordinator through the College Football Playoff, while pulling double duty as the Vols' head coach, spearheading their recruiting efforts and putting together his staff at Tennessee.
Pruitt has already started assembling his Tennessee staff. Sources told ESPN he has hired Tyson Helton, USC's passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach; Will Friend, Colorado State's offensive coordinator and offensive line coach; and Colorado State defensive backs coach Terry Fair. Sources said Pruitt wants to retain Tennessee running backs coach Robert Gillespie. In addition, sources say Georgia outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer is expected to join the staff as defensive coordinator, and Florida's Chris Rumph will join as defensive line coach.
Pruitt and Friend were roommates when they played at Alabama, and Fair was an All-SEC cornerback on Tennessee's 1997 SEC championship team.
Pruitt is in his second season as defensive coordinator under Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide are ranked first nationally in scoring defense and second nationally in total defense. Pruitt, who is the fourth Saban assistant to become an SEC head coach, also is regarded as one of the top recruiters in the conference. As an assistant coach, he has been a part of four national championship teams.
Fulmer, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, spearheaded the coaching search since replacing John Currie on Friday as the Vols' athletic director.
Fulmer interviewed Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker on Tuesday in New York. Fulmer notified Tucker on Wednesday that the school was going in a different direction.
A former defensive back at Alabama, Pruitt served two different stints on the Crimson Tide staff under Saban. He initially coached in Tuscaloosa from 2007 to 2012, the final three seasons as defensive backs coach. Pruitt then was the defensive coordinator at Florida State on the Seminoles' 2013 national championship team, and he was the defensive coordinator at Georgia under Mark Richt for the 2014 and 2015 seasons before returning to his alma mater.
The son of legendary Alabama high school coach Dale Pruitt, Jeremy was an assistant coach in the high school ranks before catching on with his alma mater in 2007 as Saban's director of player development. Both of Pruitt's defenses as Alabama's coordinator have led the country in scoring defense. His Florida State defense in 2013 also led the country in scoring defense.
Pruitt becomes the fifth head coach at Tennessee in the past 11 years. He replaces Butch Jones, who was fired after going 34-27 overall and 14-24 in SEC play in five seasons in Knoxville. Under Currie, Tennessee was close to hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano in late November, but the deal fell through because of backlash from fans and supporters.
With Pruitt's hire, agent Jimmy Sexton now represents 11 head coaches in the SEC.