When finalizing his initial staff on Rocky Top, this was before Robert Gillespie’s unexpected late departure from the coaching staff, Jeremy Pruitt hired a coach he had actually never met previously. Tennessee’s coach has often boasted about how his staff is made up of not only great coaches but just as importantly, great men.
So how did David Johnson land the job without having any previous relationship with Pruitt? Tennessee’s coach didn’t rush to make the hire, quite the opposite in fact. After several conversations with trusted coaches like longtime former Alabama running backs coach Burton Burns — he is moving to an off the field position in Tuscaloosa this offseason after being on every Nick Saban staff at Alabama, Pruitt knew Johnson fit the bill of what he was looking for in an assistant.
During his most recent media availability over the weekend, Pruitt was asked about how Johnson, a coach he did not have a previous relationship, landed on his first Tennessee staff. Pruitt credited Burns, along with New Orleans-area coaches for helping him make the decision.
“A couple years ago, I had a friend of mine that I coached with, and he told me, ‘Jeremy, one of these days you’ll get an opportunity to be a head football coach, here’s a guy that I know, I’ve seen and I’ve worked with that you need to keep on your radar.’ I never actually met him, but I did a lot of research.
“He’s from New Orleans, and one of my good friends, (running backs) coach (Burton) Burns, that’s been in Alabama, is a New Orleans native. I talked to coach Burns and a lot of guys from the city of New Orleans that are high school football coaches.”
Having Johnson’s connections to Louisiana and New Orleans could prove to be invaluable for Pruitt during his time in Knoxville. The Volunteers started a decent pipeline in the area under the previous coaching staff and will now have an opportunity to grow those connections in future seasons thanks to Johnson’s presence on Rocky Top.
While he may not have worked with Johnson before uniting with him in Knoxville, Pruitt has apparently seen enough to know he made a wise decision to hire the former Memphis assistant.
“Everybody raves about David, and now I’ve seen him out on the field since he’s been here. He’s very knowledgeable, and he could coach more than one position,” Pruitt continued. “Here’s a guy that was head coach at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. So he could actually coach any position. He does a really good job, he’s very demanding, I like that about him, he has a hard nose approach, so we’re glad that he’s here.”