NASHVILLE – Jeremy Pruitt does not understand, thinks it insignificant, really.
So as a reporter asks Pruitt about his earliest football memory, Pruitt turns the tables. He wonders aloud, “You writing a story on my earliest football memory?”, then proceeds to ask his own questions – eager to dive into knowing all elements of Tennessee football, from personnel to recruiting to media to countless other minute details, preparing each day and seizing every opportunity to learn the program inside and out.
Eventually, he circles back around to the question and admits something not too many coaches acknowledge about the sport: Pruitt’s earliest football memory involves sheer terror for the native of Rainsville, Ala., a tiny, northeast Alabama community.
“Probably going to a game – I don’t know how old I was, but I probably wasn’t but about 3 or 4,” Pruitt says. “I can remember walking along the fence at a high school football game, and the band come down through there with the drums, percussion, all that deal.
“I was scared to death. That’s probably the first thing I can remember.”
Pruitt is moving through a football life. He’s known since elementary school that coaching must be his path and tries daily to instill elements he carries to work from growing up at the feet of his father, Dale Pruitt, a high school coach in Alabama.
“Probably in the first grade,” he says, no hesitation. “I was in first grade, my dad was the defensive coordinator at Haleyville in northwest Alabama. (Future Auburn quarterback) Patrick Nix was in the third grade; his granddad, Conrad, was the head football coach, so my dad was his defensive coordinator. We hung out all the time at the fieldhouse together. We were ate up with ball.”
He is dyed in SEC wool, most of it crimson, and understands what must occur for his Volunteers to climb back to a competitive state with the Alabamas, Georgias, Auburns and other college football aristocrats.
“He’s not going to get the fans involved with building the culture with catch-phrases,” says Preston Dial, a former Tide player and de facto Pruitt roommate from Pruitt’s first job at Alabama in 2007. “He’s going to build the culture from within, and he’s going to build it with discipline.”
Plus plenty of football knowledge.
“He’s the smartest X’s and O’s coach I’ve ever been around,” Dial says.
Long-time Tennessee high school coach Maurice Fitzgerald, owner of a pair of TSSAA state championships, proclaims Pruitt the right man for Tennessee football within moments of being with Pruitt on Sunday afternoon at a charity event for the Fitzgerald family’s Nashville-based In Full Motion.
Fitzgerald emphasizes his belief in Pruitt not with the effusive in-the-moment praise common at these charity events but because of Pruitt’s own words from a couple months before.
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