Jeremy Pruitt firing shows how well Kirby Smart has done at Georgia
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Jeremy Pruitt troubles show how well Kirby Smart has done at Georgia football
After three seasons, Jeremy Pruitt is no longer the head coach at Tennessee. The school fired him, with cause, along with several other staffers on Monday stemming from an investigation into the recruiting practices.
When Pruitt was hired during the 2017 cycle, there was the thought that Tennessee was trying to do what Georgia had done with Kirby Smart. Pruitt was a successful defensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide, much like Smart was. Pruitt was also regarded as an excellent recruiter.
Both were hired to run major SEC programs as their first head coaching jobs. Smart had already found success when Pruitt was hired, as he led Georgia to an SEC title in his second season. He went on to guide the Bulldogs all the way to the national championship game, before falling to Pruitt and Alabama.
Georgia won in that 2017 season by relying on its running game and defense. It was rolling on the recruiting front, as the Bulldogs signed the No. 3 class in 2017 and the No. 1 class in the 2018 recruiting cycle. It seemed like a decent idea to try and recapture some glory for Tennessee.
But since Pruitt took over, he failed to lead Tennessee to the same level of success that Georgia had. Save for a six-game winning streak to end his second season, many of the issues that plagued Pruitt at the start of his tenure as head coach had done so throughout.
In Pruitt’s three seasons, Tennessee went 16-19. In games against Georgia, Florida and Alabama, the biggest games on Tennessee’s schedule every season, he went 0-6. All of those losses were by double digits. That is not what you want.
Beyond the institutional shortcomings at Tennesse, there are a couple of obvious reasons Pruitt couldn’t live up to the same standard Smart set. For one, Smart walked into a much better program than Pruitt did with the Volunteers. Tennessee won just four games prior to Pruitt’s arrival. Georgia won 10.
Pruitt never recruited remotely close to the same level that Smart had. Smart’s first three full classes — 2017, 2018 and 2019 — finished No. 3, No. 1 and No. 2 in the 247Sports Composite rankings. Pruitt’s finished No. 13 in 2019, No. 10 in 2020 and sat at No. 15 in 2021 prior to his dismissal.
That’s a significant gap between what Smart had to work with and what Pruitt did in terms of building up a program.
Pruitt also never had stability at the quarterback position. Jarrett Guarantono was always around, but he only started every game for Tennessee in 2018, Pruitt’s first season in charge. Even as the Volunteers seemed to land their quarterback of the future in 2020 in Harrison Bailey, he struggled to find consistent playing time this past season.
Compare that to what Smart did at Georgia. He started Jacob Eason for all but one game in 2016. When Eason got hurt to start the 2017 season, Smart turned to Jake Fromm. He went on to start every game for Georgia for the next three seasons, even with talented options like Eason and Justin Fields behind him.
Smart got consistent play from the quarterback position, even if it wasn’t always great. Pruitt brought in offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, from Georgia no-less, yet the musical chairs at quarterback continued.
For all Pruitt’s success as a defensive coordinator, his Tennessee defenses couldn’t replicate what Smart did at Georgia. The Volunteers finished in the top-25 of yards per play allowed just once in Pruitt’s three seasons. This past year, the Volunteers regressed to finish 76th in the country in that stat. Pruitt’s tactics weren’t good enough to overcome the talent discrepancy he faced at Tennessee.
Smart also wasn’t getting blown-out in the same manner Pruitt was. In Smart’s first five seasons as Georgia’s coach, he has seven double-digit losses. Pruitt had seven in 2020 alone, to go along with the nine he picked up in the first two years of his tenure.
Smart hasn’t been perfect in the Georgia job, as he too is 0-3 against Alabama and Nick Saban. Smart’s offense has struggled to keep up with some of the other elite programs in the sport. But he did at least show some ability to adapt by bringing in Todd Monken prior to the 2020 season. There’s also the whole Fields saga, though that’s a story for another day.
If there’s one stark difference in the pre-head coaching days for Pruitt and Smart, it is how the former’s tenure at Georgia flammed out to end the 2015 season. While Pruitt greatly improved Georgia’s defense in the final two years under Mark Richt, he created a number of problems behind the scenes. So much so that he was not a candidate to join Smart’s staff when he ultimately replaced Richt.
Smart never dealt with that level of drama in his time at Alabama. Maybe that should’ve been telling.
Tennessee will now have to make its fifth head coaching hire since the Volunteers last win the SEC East back in 2007. Georgia has won the division five times during that same span, with Smart picking up the final three.
As frustrating as parts of Smart’s time as Georgia’s head coaching era have been, one only has to look to the smoldering mess that is the Tennessee program at the moment to see how much worse things could be.
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