TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Jeremy Pruitt is Alabama.
The Crimson Tide’s new defensive coordinator was born in Rainsville, Ala., a town of 5,000 two hours from Tuscaloosa. His wife’s family is from Troy, Ala. As a kid, Pruitt rooted for the Crimson Tide even though his father was an Auburn fan.
“It’s very easy for us. I’ve got a lot of fond memories here,” Pruitt said during Alabama’s media day Sunday. “I think this is my 10th year, counting as a player, graduate assistant and six years with coach (Nick Saban) previous … It’s very special to me. It’s easy to walk into a young man’s house and sell the University of Alabama.”
Pruitt, who coached Alabama’s defensive backs from 2010 to ’12, remembers helping recruit current players Dalvin Tomlinson, Ryan Anderson and Alphonse Taylor.
He returns after longtime defensive coordinator Kirby Smart left Alabama to become the head coach at Georgia.
In his first year away from Alabama, Pruitt spent the 2013 season as Florida State’s defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. He helped lead the Seminoles to the national title that season. Florida State’s defense ranked first nationally in scoring defense (12.1 points per game), second in team passing-efficiency defense (93.77), third in total defense (281.4 yards per game) and top 20 in rushing defense (124.8 ypg).
Pruitt spent the last two years as Georgia’s defensive coordinator/secondary coach. Pruitt’s defense finished in the top 10 nationally in multiple categories including total defense, pass defense and scoring defense.
But Pruitt isn’t living in the past. He said the Crimson Tide defense is searching for its own identity.
“Our kids are buying into the fact that we have not done anything,” Pruitt said. “I was here before when we had some success, won a championship in 2009, and the next year we couldn’t hardly get over ourselves. We have had a little bit better transition because we’ve experienced it before and understand the growing pains. We’ve got to get over ourselves. That’s over with.”
The biggest question for Pruitt centers around what changes he’ll make. Pruitt made it clear this is “coach Saban’s defense” and that “everything in this program is coach Saban’s.”
Pruitt said when he left for Florida State, he installed the defense he had learned at Alabama. Now back in Tuscaloosa, Pruitt isn’t looking to make wholesale changes.
“As a coach, you have to take your little wrinkles that you’ve learned over time, and every year as a coach you’re looking to improve,” Pruitt said. “To me, that’s the one thing that (Saban) is so good with is that he’s OK to change. Now there has to be a reason for it. The offenses kind of change a little bit, so every year as a staff you’re doing quality control and you’re trying to find ways that you can make your defense better.
“When I came back, there were some subtle changes on the defense that had happened here since I had been gone. As far as a thumbprint, to me, I hope my thumbprint here is that we can continue to have the same success that we’ve had.”