ATLANTA — One more thing on all this what-happened-at-Georgia chatter surrounding Jeremy Pruitt, and we’ll move on.
Former Georgia football stars Aaron Murray and David Pollack are getting a lot of attention for their criticism of the new Tennessee head coach, who was the defensive coordinator for the Bulldogs a couple of years back. Both cited a lack of respect — or level of disrespect — for Mark Richt, Georgia’s head coach when Pruitt was working in Athens.
But neither Murray nor Pollack were playing for the Bulldogs at the time. Hutson Mason did, however.
Mason succeeded Murray as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback in 2014, Pruitt’s first season as Georgia’s defensive coordinator. And while his comments weren’t commanding as much attention as his Bulldog brethren, Mason corroborated their characterization of Pruitt’s conduct while coaching in Athens.
“A lot of people at Georgia saw how Pruitt handled certain situations,” said Mason, now a sports-talk radio host from noon to 3 p.m. daily on Atlanta Sports X (106.3-FM). “He had blow-ups and antics. Those are well-documented. Those happened. … I definitely agree with what (Murray and Pollack) said about being disrespectful.”
Mason confirmed that Pruitt had confrontations with Richt, fellow assistants and several members of the support staff while in Athens.
That’s not to say Mason agrees that Pruitt’s combative personality might contribute to his eventual demise at Tennessee. On the contrary, actually.
“The part I disagree with is I think some of those traits — (Pruitt) being straight-forward and blunt and cut-throat — I think those things might suit him well for having success in this conference,” said Mason, who coached some high school ball before getting into radio. “I think this conference and college football in general is a bottom-line business. Whether you’re talking about CEOs in the business world or head football coaches, you’ve got to be able to delegate and motivate and those things.”
Mason also said he can see why Pruitt sometimes lost his cool when it came to Richt’s leadership style and personality.
“I think part of it was the kind of lackadaisical, laissez-faire-type of environment (at Georgia),” Mason said. “Pruitt came from Florida State and Alabama, where everything was planned-out in detail and he won championships. It was just different under Mark Richt, and (Pruitt) didn’t like that difference.
“You’ve got Mark Richt, who is a very non-confrontational-type guy, and then you’ve got Pruitt, who is very my-way-or-the-highway. So part of it was Mark Richt not keeping him in his place. Because, you know what, (Pruitt) ain’t going to Alabama and doing that. He ain’t talking to Nick Saban like that. So I think part of it is at Alabama he knew where he stood; at Georgia, I don’t think so.”
Richt ended up getting fired a day after the 2015 regular season ended and Kirby Smart was tabbed as head a week later. Meanwhile, Pruitt was not given the option to remain at Georgia. But he landed nicely, succeeding Smart as Alabama’s defensive coordinator.
Richt, of course, became head coach at Miami, his alma mater. Reporters covering ACC Media Days in Charlotte on Wednesday asked Richt about his relationship with Pruitt.
“Here’s the deal: I’m at Miami; he’s at Tennessee,” Richt said. “I’m going to talk about Miami and I’m sure he wants to talk about Tennessee. So, we’ll leave it at that.”
Not surprisingly, Saban, at SEC Media Days on Wednesday, said he never had any problems with Pruitt.
“He did a fantastic job with us,” Saban said. “He was always respectful, very loyal, hard-working. He did a fantastic job with our players. Our players had a lot of respect for him. He was always fair and honest in his approach and how he did things. So I have never seen that side and it’s really surprising to me to hear people say that. I’ve never seen it, but that’s not to say it didn’t happen. I can only judge people on how they treat me and what they do with us, and Jeremy Pruitt did a fantastic job for us.”
As Tennessee’s head coach, Pruitt won’t have as many superiors and much in the way of checks and balances beyond new Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer and the university chancellor. That could mean great success or colossal failure. But it stands to reason that Pruitt learned from his experiences at Georgia.
Likewise, Mason believes Richt probably learned lessons from his two-year experience with Pruitt at UGA.
“I think he probably learned from it as far as the hiring process,” Mason said. “He knows the personality traits of a guy like Jeremy Pruitt doesn’t jell well with him. He hired (Manny) Diaz (as defensive coordinator) at Miami. I don’t know anything about him but I’d guess from a personality standpoint, he’s a step down from Pruitt. He probably has a better idea what he’s looking for now.”