Valdosta Daily Times

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January 16, 2014

Pruitt waited 11 years for Georgia job

Athens — Jeremy Pruitt said Wednesday he didn’t have to think twice about leaving FSU after he found out Georgia coach Mark Richt was looking for a new defensive coordinator.

Pruitt said he first met Richt 11 years ago when as a high school coach in Fort Payne, Ala., he brought recruits to Georgia. Pruitt, who coached under his father, Dale Pruitt, at Fort Payne, said he was impressed by the 2003 meeting with Richt.

“It was the first time I ever met him and when I walked out of that room 30 minutes later I was wowed,” Jeremy Pruitt said. “My father looked at me and said ‘That’s what college football is all about.’ I said right then and there if I ever had an opportunity to work for him, I wanted to be a part of his staff.”

The opportunity came Sunday, when defensive coordinator Todd Grantham left Georgia for a similar position at Louisville. Only two days later, Richt on Tuesday hired Pruitt as Grantham’s successor.

In Pruitt’s only season as Florida State’s defensive coordinator, the Seminoles led the nation in scoring defense and won the 2013 national championship. He was a finalist for the Broyles Award given to the nation’s top assistant coach.

Richt said he was foggy about the details of the 2003 meeting with Pruitt at a summer camp.

“We had the practice in the stadium and afterward had pizza and I wish I could say I remember that moment, but I’m glad the moment happened, I can tell you that,” Richt said.

Richt introduced Pruitt at a team meeting for defensive players on Tuesday afternoon. Richt said players applauded when Pruitt entered the room.

“He told the players ‘We’re going to be simple enough so you guys can turn it loose,”’ Richt said.

Richt said players “broke out in applause again” after Pruitt spoke.

“I’ve never seen that happen in 30-something years of coaching,” Richt said.

Pruitt takes over a Georgia defense that struggled last season. The Bulldogs ranked only eighth in the Southeastern Conference in total defense and 78th in the nation in scoring defense. Georgia gave up 29 points per game to rank 78th in the nation as the Bulldogs finished 8-5.

Pruitt said he’ll run a 3-4 base defense but will have multiple variations to adjust to weekly challenges. Grantham also used a three-man defensive front.

In his opening statement on Wednesday, Pruitt thanked Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher “for giving me an opportunity.”

Pruitt said “it’s never an easy time to leave any place,” and he left Florida State when the Seminoles sit atop the college football world.

Pruitt noted the SEC won seven straight national championships — including Alabama’s back-to-back titles in 2011-12 with Pruitt as secondary coach — before Florida State’s title.

Pruitt began his playing career at Middle Tennessee State before transferring to Alabama, where he roomed with Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend. Pruitt said he and Friend talk every week, and Friend told him Georgia was looking for a new defensive coordinator.

“(Friend) mentioned it to me and asked me if I would be interested,” Pruitt said. “This is the University of Georgia. Who wouldn’t be interested in this job? Absolutely, it’s one of the premier jobs in college football, and the opportunity to work with coach Richt, it’s something I just couldn’t turn down.”

Pruitt described Friend as “one of my best friends.” Friend said Pruitt was in his wedding.

“He always had a lot of respect for coach Richt and the University of Georgia,” Friend said. “I knew how he felt about the place.

“He’s a great person. He’s a football guy. He’s an energy guy. He will be demanding. At the same time, the guys will know he’s for them.”

Pruitt, who was making $500,000 per year at Florida State, received a three-year deal at Georgia expected to be worth $850,000 annually. Pruitt said he will coach defensive backs at Georgia, as he did at Florida State.

Pruitt indicated he didn’t wait for Florida State to match Georgia’s offer.

“Me and coach Fisher are very good friends, but when I decided this was what I wanted to do, I let him know and that was it,” Pruitt said.

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