Nick Saban kicks tires on Jeremy Pruitt as Alabama continues search for next defensive coordinator

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Alabama coach Nick Saban has reached out to former Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt regarding the Crimson Tide’s vacant defensive coordinator position, sources tell CBS Sports. It is believed no offer has been made at this time, and Alabama would not speak on Pruitt’s candidacy when contacted for comment.

Sources indicate Pruitt would face long odds to getting hired by the Tide as the subject of an ongoing NCAA investigation. He was fired at Tennessee two years ago as the NCAA levied allegations of 18 Level I violations on the Volunteers. Level I violations are most serious on the NCAA’s scale of infractions.

There has been widespread speculation that Pruitt would be involved in Saban’s search to replace Pete Golding, who left for the same position at Ole Miss earlier this month. Golding was not expected to be retained by Alabama.

Pruitt’s candidacy is questionable as it is unknown whether he would be allowed to accept the job if offered. 

SEC Bylaw requires any SEC school that “considers hiring an individual … who has participated in activity that resulted, or may result, in a Level I, Level II, Level III or major infraction” to have its president or chancellor “consult directly with the Commissioner prior to offering employment to the individual.”

While that language does not directly disqualify Pruitt, Alabama would need to consult with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey before making the hire.

“We have a specific bylaw that defines there has to be a consultation,” Sankey told reporters earlier this month. “It’s not an approval process. Our campuses — despite whatever mythology may exist — make their own personnel decisions. But we provide, for any hiring decision, here’s the background from a compliance standpoint.”

Auburn hired Liberty coach Hugh Freeze in late November. Freeze had been coach at Ole Miss when the program was handed a two-year bowl ban for what the NCAA called “an unconstrained culture of booster involvement in football recruiting.”

“Hugh had an outcome of an infractions case,” added Sankey in a clarification of how Freeze’s case may differ from others who may be in the midst of ongoing investigations. “We informed the Auburn University leadership, and they make those decisions. It’s not an approval or disapproval. It’s actually compliance with the bylaw we’ve established so there is transparency, there is a clear understanding of the track record and there is an oversight plan, so we don’t have those problems moving forward.”

Pruitt, despite finishing 16-19 in three seasons at Tennessee, is considered one of the best defensive minds in the country. He has extensive experience both in the SEC and alongside Saban where he was part of four national championships across eight years with his former boss as director of player development (2007-09), defensive backs coach (2010-12) and defensive coordinator (2016-17).

The NCAA alleges some Tennessee players and their families received approximately $60,000 in cash and gifts provided by Pruitt, his wife and Vols assistant coaches. Pruitt is accused of failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor football staff from 2018-21, and the university is accused of failing to monitor its recruiting. Tennessee was not found to have lacked institutional control but could still face major penalties.

Other coaches have been hired recently despite NCAA baggage. Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl was hired while under a show-cause order from the NCAA for alleged wrongdoing while at Tennessee. Xavier last year hired basketball coach Sean Miller while his former program, Arizona, remains under NCAA scrutiny for alleged violations going back to the FBI investigation  of college basketball that began in 2017. Miller had previously coached Xavier from 2004-09.

A show cause penalty does not prohibit a coach from being hired, but it is considered a scarlet letter in the industry. Any school that hires a coach with such a designation must go before the NCAA to explain why.

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