ATLANTA — It’s a bit complicated between Jeremy Pruitt and Kevin Sherrer this weekend.
The two longtime coaching allies will soon reunite at Tennessee, where Pruitt is the Volunteers’ next head coach and Sherrer will be his defensive coordinator. But before they can focus fully on Tennessee, both coaches have to worry about Monday’s National Championship Game.
Pruitt is the third Alabama coordinator in three seasons to coach in the College Football Playoff before leaving for a head coaching job. A coordinator balancing two jobs in the playoff isn’t anything new for the Tide.
Sherrer, meanwhile, will be on the opposite side Monday night, coaching Georgia’s linebackers for the final time. Yes, the second all-SEC championship game in the past eight seasons also indirectly involves two of the top three coaches for a third SEC team. It’s a rare, if not unprecedented, circumstance for not only the SEC but the entirety of college football.
“We talked [Friday] night for a little bit,” Pruitt said Saturday. “I gave him a hard time. We were working a little bit late. I told him I was going to call [Georgia coach Kirby Smart] and tell him we were out-working you all tonight.”
The two coaches have been communicating with each other when possible over the course of the week. Not only are they game-planning for each others’ teams, they’re also trying to balance their newfound responsibilities at Tennessee.
“It’s hard because we spend so much time preparing for practices and games that there’s not a lot of time leftover at the end of the day,” Sherrer said. “And we’re on different time zones so he may be in a meeting when we finish and I may be leaving or whatever when he’s done. It’s been difficult but we do talk.”
Recruiting is probably the biggest Tennessee responsibility.
“You’ve got to recruit every day,” Pruitt said. “So when we have an opportunity to recruit, the guys at Alabama, they start recruiting. So I do the same thing. I just do it for Tennessee.”
That recruiting paid off Saturday afternoon with the verbal commitment of four-star linebacker J.J. Peterson, the No. 3 OLB in the class of 2018. Peterson chose Tennessee over Alabama, Georgia and others. Though Pruitt said there is a little bit of guilt while going back and forth between the two jobs. How much does he focus on the future while still being all-in on the present?
“And to me it’s a little bit of feeling of guilt,” Pruitt said. “You almost feel like I’m sitting here working on this game, should I be doing something about the place I’m about to go, or the fact that I’m trying to recruit for Tennessee or set up or hire somebody and should I be spending this 45 minutes getting ready to figure out a way to stop [Georgia running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb]?”
“So there’s really not a good answer to that. But I’ve tried to manage it the best I could.”
Sherrer and Pruitt played together at Alabama in the 1990s and first started coaching alongside one another at Hoover (Alabama) High School. They were assistants together at Alabama when the Tide beat LSU for the BCS Championship after the 2011 season before coaching at Georgia for two seasons in 2014 and 2015. Sherrer remained with the Bulldogs when then-Alabama assistant Smart was named the team’s new coach and Pruitt moved west to be Alabama’s defensive coordinator.
That coaching relationship meant Pruitt reached out to Sherrer about going to Tennessee when the Vols targeted him after previously fumbling its coaching search.
“It was pretty quickly. I don’t think he had been announced yet but it was fairly quick,” Sherrer said. “We’ve always kind of talked about it if the opportunity presents itself to work together again.”
Pruitt was officially hired at Tennessee on Dec. 7, after both teams had made the playoff. But with each needing a win in the semifinals, it was no guarantee they’d face off against each other before teaming up again.
Thanks to Georgia’s incredible comeback against Oklahoma, they are and one will move into Knoxville a title winner and the other will undoubtedly have some regret about the way the game played out. Have either of the two reflected on the craziness of the circumstance? Sherrer said he hadn’t because of that whole lack of time thing.
“Probably not,” Sherrer said. It’s been nonstop for about two months now. Probably after the fact we’ll be able to look at it a little differently than we are now because we’re trying to prepare for a game and get ready and get the players ready.”
– – – – – – –
More College Football Playoff coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Predicting the 2018 national championship game
• Pat Forde: Jalen Hurts isn’t a great QB, and that may not matter
• Smart: Tide ‘not as unbeatable’ as they’ve been
• Tide LB talks Trump attending title game
• Saban out to move to 12-0 vs. former assistants