Tennessee football has secret recruiting weapon in wife of Jeremy Pruitt

Photo: Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee football has secret recruiting weapon in wife of Jeremy Pruitt

Football

Tennessee football has secret recruiting weapon in wife of Jeremy Pruitt

Casey Pruitt was late to the interview, but who could blame her?

Ridge, her 3-year-old son, had locked himself in the bathroom and despite the urging of his sitter, he would not open the door.

Pruitt assessed and prioritized her situation, turned around and drove home to retrieve her little one from the loo.

“He thought it was funny,” she said apologetically after she arrived. There might have even been a tiny eye roll.

That’s a glimpse into the life of Casey Pruitt, wife of University of Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt.

If asked to describe herself, she would most likely tell you that she’s a wife, mother, Southerner, and a bit of a foodie. All of that is an accurate description of the 32-year-old Union Springs, Alabama, native.

But spend 10 minutes with her and a bigger picture becomes clear. She’s also a woman who has a passion for helping others achieve their best, be it a college student, a friend, or her husband.

She’s a people person, a talker, a supporter, a born recruiter, an asset.

The job offer was inevitable

Upon accepting the job as head coach of the University of Tennessee Volunteers, Jeremy Pruitt said, “You didn’t draft me. I chose to be here.”

The same could be said for Casey Pruitt.

She told her husband early on that when given the opportunity to be a head coach he should take the job. She didn’t care if it was “far, far away” from Alabama, where both were raised, or a small Group of Five school.

“There was no reason for him to ask my permission because he already knew I would always say yes,” she said.

So when the offer came to be head coach at UT, he didn’t discuss it with her. He didn’t ask permission. Instead, he called and asked her to pack him a bag. When she didn’t question where he was going (she assumed it was another recruiting trip), he surprised her with the news.

“You and me are leaving tomorrow. I’m taking the head coaching job at the University of Tennessee,” he told her.

Take note of the “you and me.”

“I’ve known since I met Jeremy Pruitt that he would be a head football coach one day,” Casey said. “He has that it factor about him. He just has it. That’s why he is a good recruiter. He just has that personality that is meant to be a head football coach.”

Marriage — it took a village

The couple met in 2013 while working at Florida State University. He had been hired as the school’s defensive coordinator and she was a new employee in the compliance department, which verifies eligibility of students and ensures the school adheres to NCAA rules and regulations.

He had asked her out on a date, but she declined.

“I have a rule against dating people I work with,” she told him.

She was “tricked” into a date with Pruitt when invited out to celebrate a good recruiting day.

“They all disappeared, leaving me and Jeremy alone,” she said.

“A lot of the staff had already been trying to get us together. They said, ‘You’re both from Alabama and have that Southern accent,'” Casey added.

The trick worked. Within five months of their first date, they were engaged. They married on May 24, 2014, exactly one year from the day he popped the question.

“I knew what his life was like and he knew what my life was like,” she said. “I was really heavily involved in recruiting at Florida State, and I think he liked how I talked to the players and the parents. I joke that the only reason he married me is because I’m a good recruiter.”

The wife, the pillar, the recruiter

Making and maintaining relationships with student-athletes and their parents is important to Casey. She’s been doing it since she was a graduate student at Troy University, where she first worked in the compliance department.

Following graduation, she moved to Norman, Oklahoma, where she helped to recruit and then to Florida State.

But with her engagement came one of the most difficult decisions she’s had to make. She quit her job.

“I worked for two more months (after the engagement) to wrap things up and then I resigned,” she said. “I never wanted there to be a conflict of interest because I was engaged to the defensive coordinator. That was probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I loved what I did at Florida State and in Oklahoma.”

Casey can rattle off name after name of former student-athletes she met while working at various universities. She tries to stay in touch with them. For many, she knows where they live, what they do for a living, who their parents are, and sometimes even has their personal emails and phone numbers.

“I love talking and getting to meet people and forming relationships with them,” she said. “Every school that we have been to, we have built relationships with the recruits, those that signed with us and those that didn’t sign with us. That’s one of the parts I love about the job is the role I get to play in recruiting.”

Following Florida State, Jeremy Pruitt served as the defensive coordinator at Georgia and Alabama before taking the job at Tennessee.

When 11 Alabama players made first or second team All-SEC in 2016 and Ryan Anderson was not on the list she (@caseyeast1) didn’t hesitate to tweet her opinion, referring to his omission as a “travesty.”

“I’m not a social media fan,” she said. “I don’t like it because of the negative stuff that it brings (but) when it’s positive I’m fine with it. I will get on and follow all of my players at any school that I’ve ever been to. It’s a great way to keep up with what they are doing.”

And she doesn’t apologize for supporting Anderson.

“I don’t tweet often, but he deserved the credit and he needed to know that there were people behind him,” she explained. “I don’t regret doing that at all because the support that flowed in from that tweet was huge for just a little bit of negative that was said.”

Hey baby, what’s in a name

A perfect example of how important the students are to the Pruitts becomes evident when people learn the middle name of their second son was chosen to honor two of Jeremy Pruitt’s Alabama linebackers, Ryan Anderson and Reuben Foster.

“Flynt’s middle name is Anderson-Foster. We wanted to just name him that (unhyphenated), but people told us if we named him Anderson they would call him Andy, and if we named him Foster they would call him Fos,” Casey said. “We didn’t want him to have a nickname, so I said let’s do Anderson-Foster as a middle name and that way nobody can shorten it. We will find something else to be his first name.”

“Over the moon” is how she described the two teammates when they heard the baby would carry their names.

“They both have the best smiles, and I can literally see Ryan and Reuben’s big ol’ smiles when they heard we were naming our baby after them.”

The first name, Flynt, came about on one of those rare nights when her husband was home and they were watching TV together.

“We were watching ‘Black Sails’ on Starz,” Casey said. “The captain’s name is Flint. I said what about that for a first name. We both liked it, but we chose to spell it differently.”

Flynt Anderson-Foster is 15 months. Their oldest son, Ridge Thacker Pruitt, 3, is named after Jeremy’s grandmother.

“Thacker was her maiden name,” Casey said.

When deciding on their first child’s name, Casey said, Jeremy would go through a litany of sports calls to determine if it met the criteria.

“Jeremy would say, ‘Ridge Pruitt to the plate; Ridge Pruitt with the pass; Ridge Pruitt with the carry,'” she said. “He would go through all the sporting things, and I said, ‘Seriously, are we doing that?'”

Jayse, 23, is Jeremy’s oldest son. He just graduated from Jacksonville State and will be studying at Freed-Hardeman University this fall to pursue his master’s degree.

She describes Jayse as “good as gold.”

His goal is to be a professor of religion and he is interning as a youth pastor at his church.

“I feel so fortunate that my little boys have not just one but two great role models in the home,” she said.

Calling Knoxville home

Home is in West Knoxville where two rooms were still cluttered with unpacked moving boxes in mid-August. That’s because Casey has only been in Knoxville for two months and has had to host two major private events since arriving.

She moved here much later than Jeremy because their 3-year-old, Ridge, is on the autism spectrum, presenting itself via minor verbalization issues. She stayed in Tuscaloosa with the children until their oldest had completed his speech therapy for the season while also organizing future speech intervention services in Knoxville.

“My goal is that by Sept. 1, everything will be unpacked and in its place,” she said.

In addition to the two social events, Casey found time to meet each football player on the team.

“We had every player over to our house for dinner,” she said. “We broke them into four groups of about 30 players, and I fed them pasta because I know they love to carb load.”

The group played in the swimming pool, competed in shuffleboard and corn hole, and shot pool on the billiards table, with some coming away with bragging rights after beating the coach.

“I found out that night that two of our players are magicians,” Casey said. “Both just happen to be kickers. I joked with them and asked if this was what they learned while hanging out waiting for their turn on the field.”

She considers the student-athletes and their parents, both now and at previous schools, as her “extended family.”

“We just had two check on us to see how we were doing since the move,” she said. “Parents and players don’t do that unless they have a true connection with their football coach and their family.”

Juggling family time with coaching

“I’m a single mother from August to February, and even the rest of the year it varies depending on recruiting and speaking engagements,” she said, but she’s learned to make the most of the hours that her husband has available.

“Sunday, Monday and Tuesday are Jeremy’s big work days,” she said. “He is in the office from 4 a.m. to sometimes 4 a.m. the next day. Sometimes he will come home for a few hours to sleep and actually see us, even if we are sleeping, too.”

She knows that they won’t have family meals on those days so she selects one and takes the children and a to-go meal to Jeremy’s office so they can have dinner. On Sunday the entire athletic staff, spouses and children get together for a meal at the athletic facility.

“It’s an hour where everyone gets to have a meal with their parent and spouse, but after that hour is done it’s go time for the staff,” Casey said.

Wednesday is the only night that her husband gets home early enough to spend quality time with the kids.

“That’s the one night with his boys and it’s very precious to us,” she said. “He plays with them, reads to them, hangs out with them, and helps put them to bed. He tries to keep any business calls until after 8 p.m. because from 6-8 he is with us.”

After Wednesday’s family time it’s hit or miss whether they see him before game day Saturday.

“I know that the fans don’t particularly like those noon games, but I love them because I know I will have Saturday night with my husband,” she said.

Finding a church home is important to the couple, and though both were raised in the Baptist faith, Casey said we also “love a good nondenominational church.”

“Every time we move to a new place we will visit churches,” she said. “We love praise music, and our boys love to be with us in church during that time clapping and dancing. I drag them off to the nursery once the sermon begins.”

She also has a passion for volunteering and hopes to become more involved in the community that way once everyone is settled in to the fall routine.

“I grew up participating in 4H,” Casey said. “Everyone thinks because I was raised on a farm that I showed animals but I didn’t. I participated in the leadership program. That’s where I learned the importance of community service.”

For more, visit the Knoxville News-Sentinel

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