The news that Jeremy Pruitt will end up back at Alabama and guiding its defense and recruiting against, not for, Georgia, might have been inevitable. When Kirby Smart replaced Mark Richt, thus creating the opening in Tuscaloosa, the only question was whether Nick Saban would invite the prodigal son home.
A comment by Saban back in June a the SEC meetings, should’ve been the clue that he would.
“I think Jeremy Pruitt is one of the best coaches we’ve ever had on our staff,” said Saban, who had Pruitt as his secondary coach from 2010-12 and for three years before that in a player development role.
So Georgia and Alabama, once this news is confirmed, have now essentially traded defensive coordinators. Georgia just needs to hope it goes better than the unofficial trade with the St. Louis Rams: Todd Gurley for Brian Schottenheimer.
On its face this is not debilitating for Georgia, but it’s not good news either. Whether it ends up being bad news will depend on what happens from here on out.
Pruitt had his detractors. And the stories of personality conflicts behind the scenes were not invented. It was more than just the indoor facility comments last year.
But Pruitt was also good at his job. No matter the quality of opponents, first in the nation in pass defense (especially when you’re also the secondary coach) and ninth in the nation in total defense is very good, especially when your lineup was liberally sprinkled with underclassmen. A sophomore, Dominick Sanders, was the mainstay of the secondary, for goodness sake.
Plus, for all the personality conflict, all indications were Richt was going to make it work with Pruitt for at least another year. But he didn’t get the chance.
Yes, Smart supposedly had a green light to hire who he wanted. But it’s safe to say he wasn’t told by UGA administrators: Man, Kirby, you better bring this guy back. And Kirby apparently didn’t make it a stipulation of his hiring.
Perhaps it’s a huge mistake. Much like the Richt firing and Smart hiring, that will only be known in a year or longer.
But there will be immediate implications. There are recruiting overlaps, as even Pruitt’s detractors acknowledged he was a very strong recruiter. Perhaps some players currently committed to the Bulldogs will cast a wandering eye to Tuscaloosa now. And perhaps some players who were being recruited by both schools will take a longer look at Alabama. It does help Georgia, however, that Smart has switched sides too. Maybe it cancels things out.
There could be other short-term implications: Pruitt’s players at Georgia, who were so vocal in support of their coach, may act on it. Joining him directly at Alabama is no longer a given. Under Richt, there were never stipulations put on transferring within the SEC, because of his own philosophy. That may change with Smart.
Pruitt will end up being at Georgia for less than two years – it’s hard to see him sticking around to coach in the Gator Bowl – but it’s inarguable that he leaves Georgia’s defense better than he found it. He was the second-best defensive coordinator that Richt had at Georgia, and with another year or two he might have passed Brian VanGorder.
The fiery Pruitt also leaves Athens a somewhat chastened, but probably better for it. If he’s as good on the field as he was the past two years, and has also used his off-field mistakes as a learning lesson, he’s going to make somebody a very good head coach someday.
Georgia, meanwhile, can console itself with the knowledge it has Smart, one of the most respected defensive coordinators in the country, has promised to be “hands on with every part of the program.” And at least on that side of the ball, Smart inherits a situation that is better for having had these two volatile but productive years under Jeremy Pruitt.