ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit believes Tennessee head coach and acting Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has the potential to make a successful transition to head coach, much likes Georgia’s Kirby Smart, who he’ll face in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game next week.
During a media conference call, Herbstreit compared Smart to Alabama coach Nick Saban prior to their upcoming matchup and added that he expects Pruitt, who succeeded the Bulldogs head coach as the Tide’s defensive coordinator last season, to take a similar approach to his former predecessor in his career change.
“When you go to practice and watch him coach, it’s crazy how similar and how demanding he is on the defensive side of the ball,” Herbstreit said of Smart’s likeness to Saban. “I think Jeremy Pruitt, I don’t know if he’ll have the roster that Kirby inherited in Athens. But he’ll have the same kind of approach in Knoxville. Wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him be successful.”
Smart, who spent eight seasons as a defensive coordinator during his nine-year tenure at Alabama, will appear in his first College Football Playoff National Championship Game as a head coach in just his second season.
That quick turnaround is something Tennessee fans would hope to see from Pruitt, although it’s an unreasonable achievement to expect any new coach to match.
Granted, Smart benefited from inheriting a talented roster that underachieved lofty expectations, which led to former head coach Mark Richt’s termination in 2015.
Similarly, Tennessee fired former coach Butch Jones after two seasons in which the team failed to win the SEC East — despite being picked by many to do so during the preseason — but that also preceded he worst finish in program history last season.
Pruitt will inherit several talented returning starters during his first season in Knoxville, albeit perhaps not to the extent that Smart did during his first year at Georgia in 2016.
Still, there’s plenty for Vol fans to be excited about with Pruitt and Herbsteit’s comments should add to the optimism.