TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- After several days of cagey silence, Jimbo Fisher made the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt as Florida State's new defensive coordinator official Thursday. Pruitt replaces Mark Stoops, who accepted the head coach job at Kentucky three weeks ago.
With just three years of on-field coaching experience at the college level as defensive backs coach at Alabama, Pruitt is something of an unlikely hire. Fisher said Pruitt was "near the top" of his list of potential candidates all along, but Pruitt aced the interviews.
"His knowledge of the game, his experience, how he's handled things," Fisher said. "When he got on the [white] board, his answers to playing spread things -- he's had great success against open [offense] teams. The way they've played and done those things, and we've had a great rapport. I have no doubt he's ready to be a coordinator, and I think he'll be a very good one."
Fisher said he has known Pruitt for nearly a decade and they had built a relationship when Pruitt was an assistant coach at Hoover (Ala.) High School.
Pruitt's hire also comes with the reluctant endorsement of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, one of Fisher's closest friends.
"Nick's mad," Fisher said. "They offered him a bunch of money to stay there as a position guy. … He's happy for Jeremy because it's an opportunity."
Along with Pruitt, Fisher announced the hiring of former Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, who has been a fixture at Florida State practices this week.
Pruitt will make $20,793 biweekly (roughly $540,000 per year) according to a letter of acceptance. Sunseri will make $7662 biweekly ($198,000 per year). Contracts are not finalized so length of the deals was not released.
Sunseri will coach defensive ends, replacing D.J. Eliot, who will join Stoops in Kentucky as defensive coordinator for the Wildcats. Eliot is expect to remain at FSU through the Discover Orange Bowl as defensive play-caller, while Sunseri will also be on the sideline for the bowl game Jan. 1 against Northern Illinois.
Pruitt, on the other hand, will remain at Alabama through the BCS national championship game against Notre Dame on Jan. 7.
"He'll identify himself with our recruits and all that, but when you have a chance to win national championships, I've been in those situations before myself," Fisher said. "It would be unfair to the kids at Alabama."
Pruitt inherits a defense that was revitalized under Stoops. In 2009, the year before Stoops took over, FSU was among the worst defenses in the nation. This season, the Seminoles ranked second in total defense -- trailing only Pruitt's Crimson Tide.
Pruitt served as a defensive coordinator at Hoover (Ala.) High School prior to joining Saban's staff at Alabama in 2007 as director of player development.
“Jeremy did an outstanding job for us and the opportunity for him to become the defensive coordinator at Florida State is well deserved,” Alabama head football coach Nick Saban said an FSU release. “Jeremy has worked very hard through the years to earn this opportunity and put himself in this situation. We appreciate all that he has done to contribute to the success we’ve had at Alabama and wish him the best in his new role.”
Fisher said Pruitt will be able to reach out to recruits before coming to FSU full time. The Seminoles have already lost one commitment since the coaching changes occurred last month.
Pruitt has also made contact with several current players thus far, but questions remain about what impact he'll have on Florida State's defensive scheme.
"Especially with Alabama -- they have a nice system over there, so it'll be interesting to see what he does when he comes in," linebacker Christian Jones said.
Fisher said Thursday that Florida State would continue to employ a 4-3 base defense under Pruitt, despite Alabama running a 3-4. Other changes could be in store, however.
"We'll keep a lot of the same things we've done defensively but add a few things that they bring,” Fisher said. “It'll be a great mix, I think, for allowing us to do some different things and add their package."
Even with Thursday's hires of Pruitt and Sunseri, more questions remain.
Rumors have swirled that linebackers coach Greg Hudson could be moved to an administrative role as FSU's director of football operations or could potentially join Skip Holtz's staff at Louisiana Tech. Fisher would only confirm that Hudson will remain in his current position through the Orange Bowl.
In addition, running backs and special teams coach Eddie Gran has already accepted the offensive coordinator job at Cincinnati. Fisher said he plans to wait on a hire to replace Gran, and suggested that Sunseri could pick up special teams coordinator duties at FSU.
"He's a special teams guru, but we'll wait and see how the next hire goes," Fisher said. "But he'll be involved with [special teams] significantly."