JOE BIDDLE: Vols got their man

New Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt, right, receives a personalized jersey from athletic director Phillip Fulmer during his introductory news conference Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Steve Megargee)

The day that every person who is a member of Big Orange Nation has waited for finally came to fruition Thursday.

It has been a contentious time, having to hear other college football fans making jokes every time a candidate turned his back on interim Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer and before that from the fired AD, John Currie.

Jeremy Pruitt’s life changed this week. He has been Alabama’s defensive coordinator, joining the glamour that the Crimson Tide’s football program has built under Nick Saban.

Pruitt wants to build a similar program, one that demands everyone get all in.

As a young kid growing up in North Alabama, Pruitt was a son of a high school football coach. He grew up in the game.

He wants to restore the glory that Tennessee’s football program had in the 1990s, with a national championship in 1998 under Fulmer.

Times, they have been tough to swallow. Jeremy Pruitt is going to bring it back or die trying. He won’t do it by himself. The 43-year-old first year head coach has to rely on the 100,000-plus men, women and children who pay to sit in Neyland Stadium on Fall weekends and watch their beloved Volunteers.

“Thank you for giving me this opportunity,’’ Pruitt told everyone who was in his press conference. He meant it for everyone who ever bought a Power T-Tee shirt. Pruitt aimed it to everyone who has a fiery love in their belly for the program on the Hill.

“There was a time and space where the “T’’ was feared,’’ he said.

It’s not there now. How long will it take to rebuild it? Phillip Fulmer has cast his lot with Pruitt. They share backgrounds as Fulmer grew up in Winchester, near the Alabama border.

They need to upgrade the recruiting.

“Recruiting is the lifeblood of any organization. This is still a people business,’’ Pruitt said.

He is known for his ability to recruit high school players that can turn this program around. He has been recognized as the best recruiter in the country for a number of years.

What is it going to take?

“I want players who are fast, dominating, relentless – a team that nobody wants to play,’’ Pruitt said.

He has already identified some members of his staff. They have been successful at their schools. He wants them to help reconstruct Tennessee’s program.

And, I doubt he will build it brick by brick or number each team. That didn’t work for the last coach.

Former Middle Tennessee State legend Boots Donnelly praised Pruitt. Pruitt was a defensive back at MTSU from 1993-94.

“(Pruitt) is the top of the line football coach,’’ Donnelly said.

Pruitt seems to be salt of the earth, a family man who wants his players to believe in him.

“My dad was a high school football coach for 26 years,’’ Pruitt said. “I wanted to be a football coach.

“It starts today. One day at a time.”

I believe Fulmer made the right choice. The pool of head coaches pretty much dried up when other schools hired them. But assistant coaches and coordinators have turned out to become some of the most successful head coaches in the business.

The late Paul “Bear’’ Bryant was once a Vanderbilt assistant coach.

I think he turned out all right.

Joe Biddle is a sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at