Jeremy Pruitt leaving UGA, and Kirby Smart let him go

Jeremy Pruitt (L) and Mark Richt could never get in sync, and both are now out at Georgia. AJC / SONNY KENNEDY

ATHENS — Mark Richt cleared out his office at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall last week, and Jeremy Pruitt cleared out his on Thursday.

Georgia’s defensive coordinator of the last two years will be named Alabama’s defensive chief in the coming days, persons familiar with the situation confirmed Friday. That development will come as no surprise.

What might, however, is the fact that Pruitt would have preferred to have stayed with the Bulldogs. He said so immediately after Georgia’s season-ending win over Georgia Tech, he told Kirby Smart the same thing after he was introduced as UGA’s 26th head football this past Monday, and he reportedly told UGA’s defensive players that this week.

What does that mean?

Based on the comments of Smart and Athletic Director Greg McGarity in the past week — who were both adamant that Smart could retain or hire anybody he wanted — it means that Smart allowed Pruitt to leave. It means that Smart has other plans for running the Bulldogs’ defense.

Pruitt, 41, has been Georgia’s defensive coordinator for the past two seasons. The Bulldogs’ finished eighth in the nation in total defense this past season (298 ypg) and also were No. 1 in pass defense (146.1 ypg), second in red-zone defense (.645) and 10th in scoring defense (16.9 ppg) this season.

But Pruitt’s defense struggled in games against quality opponents. The Bulldogs faced only three SEC teams with winning records this season — Alabama, Tennessee and Florida — and Georgia gave up an average of 437 yards and 34.3 points in those games. And Pruitt was a source of dissension not only within the athletic department, but within the coaching staff. Some members of Mark Richt’s staff told the former head coach they weren’t staying if Pruitt was retained.

Pruitt certainly is landing on his feet. Pruitt’s appointment at Alabama continues what has been for him a meteoric rise in the coaching profession over the last five years. He has been a defensive coordinator for only three years.

A former defensive back for the Crimson Tide, Pruitt coached high school ball as an assistant until 2007. After two years as a player development specialist, he went from defensive backs coach at Bama in 2010, to FSU’s defensive coordinator in 2013 — winning a national championship — to Georgia in 2014.

Now he returns to Alabama.

The Macon Telegraph, citing sources, reported that Pruitt met with Georgia’s defensive players on Thursday to inform them that he was leaving but wanted to stay. His departure will not sit well with several returning players, who launched a brief #KeepPruitt campaign on social media in the days following Richt’s dismissal.

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