ATLANTA — Nick Saban and Kirby Smart stood on the same stage Thursday night, ostensibly there to promote their participation – in different games – in the College Football Playoff. But the subject of Jeremy Pruitt, a name very familiar and relevant to both, overhung the press conference.
Pruitt was introduced as Tennessee’s new head coach just as Saban and Smart were leaving the stage in Atlanta, around 6 p.m. It was Saban who, in answer to a question, confirmed that Pruitt would stay with Alabama as defensive coordinator through the playoff – just as Smart did two years ago before taking over Georgia full time.
“Most of the really great coaches, who have great competitive character, are going to do what’s best for the players,” Saban said. “Kirby certainly did a good job of that. I’m sure Jeremy will do a good job of that this year.”
Smart said he had no regrets in staying on at Alabama, where he helped the Crimson Tide win the national championship, while at the same time hiring a staff and beginning to recruit for Georgia.
“I was always concerned: Am I doing the right thing for Georgia, and am I doing the right thing for Alabama?” Smart said. “What was best for both was to finish up what you were doing but move on to the new things you had to do with recruiting. … I’m glad now looking back that I did what I did, because it was the right thing to do.”
That was then. Now Smart has Georgia in the playoff – and has been spending the week trying to hold onto the staff that he put together two years ago.
James Coley, the receivers coach, has turned down a chance to go to Texas A&M, according to people close to the situation. Kevin Sherrer, the outside linebackers coach, may be pursued by multiple programs – including Tennessee. It was Pruitt who brought in Sherrer four years ago when Pruitt became Georgia’s defensive coordinator.
“It’s an honor anytime your assistants get a chance to advance yourselves,” Smart said on Thursday. “I learned that from none other than Nick. When you get an opportunity from somebody to go on and increase their role, to get a promotion, I think it’s a great honor. It’s an honor to your staff and the success you’ve had at your program. I hope that all our guys get that opportunity.”
The timing of the early signing period is also having an impact, Smart added. The period begins on Dec. 20, and has ramped up the decision-making process for many coaches.
“We’ve got coaches that are jockeying to go to different places and different staffs,” Smart said. “Because of the early signing period they’re trying to work earlier and get in position. Whereas earlier you didn’t really worry about coaching movement until after the bowl game. So it’s brought up some unique circumstances, especially for a team that’s in the National College Football Playoff.”