Georgia hires Pruitt away from FSU as defensive coordinator

The Macon TelegraphJanuary 14, 2014 

Jeremy Pruitt at the 2014 BCS National Championship press conference as Florida State's defensive coordinator

KIRBY LEE — USA TODAY Sports

— Georgia's search for a defensive coordinator is over after less than two days, luring away the man who ran the defense for the national champions.

Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has agreed to take the same job with Georgia, in a coup for Georgia head coach Mark Richt.

Pruitt was at Georgia's facility on Tuesday, meeting with staff members and making phone calls. When approached at the Butts-Mehre athletic building by this reporter, Pruitt declined to comment. The news was confirmed later in the afternoon by Georgia.

"I'm ecstatic," Richt said, simply.

"This is an outstanding professional and personal opportunity," Pruitt said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to meeting the current players and getting on the road to visit with recruits."

Pruitt will meet the media on Wednesday at 11 a.m.

Pruitt, 39, spent the past season in the same job at Florida State, which won the national championship. Prior to that he spent three years as the secondary coach at Alabama, his alma mater, working under Nick Saban.

So Georgia has hired a coach who has won three straight national championships.

Pruitt was called a "star" and a "home run" hire by ESPN analyst David Pollack, the former Georgia All-American defensive end.

"He's got a very cool demeanor," Pollack said in an interview. "First year coming into a new system you'd think you'd have some growing pains, but the thing that impressed me the most with his team throughout the season was his versatility, and the way he used different guys, and really adapted to his personnel. I think that's one thing that's not talked about enough in college football, when you talk about great defenses this, great defenses that. I think great coaches put their players in the best position to succeed."

For instance, Pruitt moved LaMarcus Joyner and Christian Jones to different positions last offseason, and they became key parts of the defense. That could prove important as he takes over Georgia's defense.

Pruitt will now inherit 10 starters, and a number of other players who started or contributed this season. But many of the players struggled this past season, and while Pruitt is still likely to run the 3-4 scheme, he will take a fresh look at the roster and whether players could be better suited at other positions, or in different packages.

"When I look at the University of Georgia's defensive personnel, there's a lot to like," Pollack said. "I think he's got two better pass rushers (Jordan Jenkikns and Leonard Floyd) on this roster than he had at Florida State, period. Now (Tim) Jernigan on the inside was a beast to me, I think he's a great player. But you look at Jenkins and Floyd, both of those guys have star potential. ...

"When you look at Georgia's defense, I don't think they played hard enough, to be honest. Effort has to be coached in college. You've gotta have some dogs, you know? You've gotta play your booty off and play hard. I don't think they played hard enough, for one, and too many busts, missed assignments, blown coverages, whatever you want to call it. It was just kind of unacceptable."

What's more, Richt has now turned to a Saban disciple for a second defensive coordinator in a row. Grantham, who bolted for Louisville on Sunday after four years in Athens, worked under Saban in the 1990s. And by hiring Pruitt, Georgia can stick with the 3-4 base defense.

It is not believed that Kirby Smart, Alabama's defensive coordinator, was a serious candidate this time around. Smart, a former Georgia player and assistant coach, came close to returning four years ago but decided to stick around. This time, it appears Richt honed in on Pruitt from the beginning.

Pruitt was on a one-year contract at Florida State that paid him $500,000 this past season. Georgia was paying Grantham $850,000, and the school was believed ready to easily top Pruitt's salary.

Pruitt is likely to coach Georgia's secondary, so that also fills a position-coaching vacancy: Georgia's previous secondary coach, Scott Lakatos, resigned last week for personal reasons.

The future of Georgia's two remaining defensive assistants, defensive line coach Chris Wilson and inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, was up in the air. Wilson has been in Indianapolis the past two days at the national coaches convention. Olivadotti has remained in Athens.

Florida State's defense ranked third this year in yards allowed, and first in passing yards allowed. And during Pruitt's three years at Alabama, the Crimson Tide ranked in the top 15 nationally each year in passing yards allowed.

Georgia's pass defense was its weak point this year, and arguably the weak point of the entire team. The Bulldogs were 60th nationally this year in passing yards allowed.

Pruitt was also college teammate of Will Friend, Georgia's offensive line coach, who was key in bringing Pruitt aboard, a source said.

Pruitt was a finalist this year for the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation's top assistant. (Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was a finalist after the 2012 season.)

Pruitt's father, Dale Pruitt, is a longtime high school coach in Alabama, and is the head coach at Plainview (Ala.) High School, where his son starred as a defensive back. He started his college career at Middle Tennessee State, then transferred to Alabama, where he played under Gene Stallings, and roomed with Friend.

The coaching career of Georgia's new defensive coordinator began at Alabama, as a graduate assistant. Pruitt then coached under his father at Plainview, before moving on to West Alabama for one year, then re-joined his father, who had moved on to another Alabama high school.

"When I decided that I wanted to be a football coach, I didn't sit there and say I wanted to be a winner of the Broyles Award or a finalist for the Broyles Award," Pruitt said late last year, in a story on Al.com. "I wanted to be a high school football coach, and that's what I was."

Eventually Pruitt landed on the staff at Hoover (Ala.) High School, working under head coach Russ Propst. After a three-year stint at Hoover, Pruitt was hired by Saban to be a director of player development. Two years later, Saban put Pruitt in charge of the secondary.

"Jeremy is not a yes man," Dale Pru­itt told Al.com in 2010. "He has great respect for Coach Saban, but I don't think Coach Saban intimidates him. If he has something to add, he'll speak up. I think Coach Sa­ban likes that."

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