Five first-year coaches in the SEC are in the middle of fall practice hoping last-minute preparation will lead to success in 2018.
But only one program made a game-changing hire according to college football coaching legend Bobby Bowden, who raved about Tennessee's Jeremy Pruitt during a recent interview with ESPN's Chris Low.
"Out of all these new coaches coming up, I have a feeling (Pruitt) is going to do the best," Bowden said. "Nobody’s expecting anything out of Tennessee, and he’s such a good coach. I think he’s a hidden jewel, boy. I really do."
Bowden knows a thing or two about winning after capturing two national championships and countless conference titles during his illustrious career at Florida State (1976–2009). Like Pruitt, Bowden is an Alabama native and gained a reputation as an ace recruiter during his wonder years in Tallahassee.
Pruitt has also gained the support of Nick Saban, who believes the Vols made a terrific hire in finding a replacement for Butch Jones. Pruitt was asked at SEC Media Days if he received any advice from Saban about being a head coach after leaving Alabama's staff for Knoxville and he jokingly responded, "Do you think Coach Saban is going to give me any advice?"
Pruitt was on Alabama's staff as the program's director of player development from 2007-09 before Saban made him the Crimson Tide's defensive backs coach in 2010. After three seasons, he left for Florida State and won a national title with Jimbo Fisher before landing at Georgia as Mark Richt's DC.
Pruitt returned to Alabama as defensive coordinator in 2016 and helped the Crimson Tide rank first nationally in total and scoring defense with a number of future NFL Draft picks. His departure after last season's national title season in Tuscaloosa left Saban with a crucial void on his staff.
"What I tell every guy that when they leave, whether it was Jim McElwain or Kirby (Smart) or whoever, I said the most important thing for you, when you go to be your own head coach, is you have to be who you are," Saban said at SEC Media Days. "You have to be yourself. You guys have been that way here, and you made a tremendous impact on the group that you were in control over. So to think you have to be any different just because you're in charge of the whole team instead of one side of the ball is not something you need to overthink.
"And I think Jeremy's very capable. He's one of the best coaches we've had on our staff, and I think he'll do extremely well."
Tennessee opens the season on Sept. 1 in Charlotte vs. nationally-ranked West Virginia, a team many believe will challenge for a Big 12 Championship this fall.
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