ATHENS – Jeremy Pruitt is a wanted man by several football programs, just not the one for which he currently works.
Pruitt, Georgia’s defensive coordinator of the past two years, has had his name come up for numerous job openings since before the end of the regular season. Among them were head coaching openings, first at Central Florida and now at South Carolina.
Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost was hired at Central Florida on Tuesday. Persons with knowledge of the ongoing coaching search at South Carolina on Tuesday could not confirm Pruitt’s candidacy there but did not discount it altogether. The Gamecocks have struggled to find a replacement for Steve Spurrier, who resigned abruptly at midseason.
Meanwhile, Pruitt is commanding a lot of attention for his services as a defensive coordinator. The 41-year-old native Alabaman this past season led the Bulldogs to a No. 1 national ranking in pass defense (146.1 ypg) and top 10 national finishes in red-zone defense (second, .645), total defense (eighth, 298.0) and scoring defense (10th, 16.9).
Whatever Pruitt does, he remains under contract at UGA and must inform the Bulldogs of any jobs he may be pursuing. Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity confirmed Tuesday that Pruitt’s representatives have kept the school “in the loop” on opportunities he has.
Pruitt last year signed a new three-year contract with the Bulldogs that raised his salary to $1.3 million and made him one of the highest-paid coordinators in the country. As Georgia has completed the regular season, Pruitt would not have any financial repercussions if he accepted another position.
If Georgia does not retain him, it is in its interest for him to take another job. Any salary he would earn elsewhere would be prorated against the contract he currently has.
“Yes, he has fulfilled his contractual obligations,” McGarity said.
Georgia gave Pruitt a $450,000 raise in salary and a one-year contract extension on Jan. 3 last year. The increase came after Pruitt was approached about defensive coordinator openings at Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M.
One likely scenario for Pruitt this year is that he could succeed Kirby Smart as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama. Smart is considered the top candidate to replace Mark Richt as Georgia’s head coach. Pruitt, a former Crimson Tide player, coached with Smart at Alabama from 2007-12, the last three years as defensive backs coach.
Also, Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has been mentioned as a head coaching candidate at South Carolina. If Muschamp went to Columbia, Pruitt could succeed him on The Plains.
Keeping Pruitt at Georgia is not expected to be a viable option. Pruitt was the source of dissension between other members of the Bulldogs’ coaching staff and had confrontations with other individuals in roles of administrative support.
In two short years at UGA, Pruitt developed a reputation as a hard-charging maverick who had little use for protocol and decorum. He drew the ire of McGarity during the 2014 season when he openly complained about the program’s lack of an indoor practice facility and said it hurt the Bulldogs perceptually and in on-field preparation.
Nevertheless, UGA will break ground on a new $30.1 Indoor Athletic Facility on Dec. 21 at the Butts-Mehre football complex.
Pruitt’s on-field work is above reproach. Georgia’s defensive players are fiercely loyal to Pruitt and several launched a #KeepPruitt social media campaign.
Others who have been linked to the South Carolina job include Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora and even Richt, who reportedly recommended Pruitt for the position.
A South Carolina official said that the prospect of landing Richt was “extremely exciting” to the Gamecocks’ fan base. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier resigned in early October after South Carolina’s 2-4 start. Interim coach Shawn Elliott went 1-5 in his stead as the Gamecocks dropped their final five games to end the season. Elliott is also expected to receive an interview for the full-time job.
In the meantime, Pruitt remains on the road recruiting for the Bulldogs. Considered one of Georgia’s best recruiters, he was attending church with the mother of 5-star prospect Mecole Hardman in Elbert County on Sunday when news broke that Richt had been dismissed.
DawgNation.com’s Seth Emerson contributed to this report.