Jeremy Pruitt has wanted to work at Georgia for a long time.
The former Florida State defensive coordinator first met Georgia head coach Mark Richt in 2003 as a high school coach in Fort Payne, Ala., when he brought two recruits to the university. Pruitt, who coached under his father Dale Pruitt at Fort Payne, was so impressed with the meeting 11 years ago that he promised himself something when exiting the room.
“When I walked out of that room 30 minutes later I was wowed,” Pruitt said. “My father looked at me and said ‘That’s what college football is all about.’ I said right then and there that if I ever had an opportunity to work for him that I would be a part of his staff.”
That opportunity came on Sunday when former Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham left the program to pursue the same job at the University of Louisville. Two days later Pruitt’s wish came true when he was hired as Georgia’s next defensive coordinator.
Richt could not clearly remember everything about that meeting with Pruitt, but he was sure of one detail.
“We had practice in the stadium and afterwards we had pizza and just hung around with everybody,” Richt said. “I wish I could say I remember that moment, but I’m glad the moment happened.”
Richt said the hiring process was a smooth one as he talked to only one other potential candidate whom he would not name.
It’s hard to argue with Pruitt’s résumé when he has been a part of the last three national championship teams, most recently with Florida State in 2013. Pruitt was in his first year as defensive coordinator with the Seminoles where his team finished first among FBS teams in scoring defense (12.1 points), second in team passing efficiency defense (93.77), third in total defense (281.4 yards) and 18th in rushing defense (124.8 ypg).
Prior to coaching at Florida State, Pruitt spent three seasons as Alabama’s defensive backfield coach from 2010-2012. In each of his three seasons with the Crimson Tide, his secondary finished in the top 10 nationally in pass efficiency defense, top 15 in pass defense and top five in both total defense and scoring defense.
Even before entering the big time college ranks he had previously served as an assistant coach at Hoover High School (Ala.) from 2004-2006, and as an assistant under his father at Fort Payne (Ala.)
High and Plainview High School (Ala.) where he won two state titles.
“He spent time at the University of Alabama as a defensive backfield coach,” Richt said. “Obviously they do a tremendous job on defense and the guys he coached and the way he went about his business there. And then you go to Florida State and see how well they played and win a national championship, it was kind of a no-brainer on the résumé part.”
Rather than focus solely on the résumé, Richt prefers to talk to individuals that could tell him about a potential hire’s personality away from the football field. This time around, Richt didn’t have to look too far.
After transferring from Middle Tennessee State to Alabama, Pruitt roomed with Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend. Pruitt said that the two have continued talking weekly for the past 15-20 years, and Friend called him this week with news about an opening at the defensive coordinator position.
“When the job came open in the small talk we had weekly, he asked me if I would be interested and this is the University of Georgia, and who wouldn’t be interested in this job,” Pruitt said.
“It’s one of the premier jobs in college football, and I had the opportunity to work with coach Richt and I just couldn’t turn down.”
After finishing atop the BCS standings this past season, Pruitt did not offer Florida State a chance to counter-offer Georgia’s $850,000 annual salary proposition.
Pruitt was first introduced to the team on Tuesday where his introduction was followed with a round of applause. After giving a speech to the team, he was met with an encore response.
“I had never seen that in a meeting since I’ve been coaching 30 something years,” Richt said.
Pruitt will now look to turn around a Georgia defense, which struggled last season, finishing eight in the Southeastern Conference in total defense and 79th in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 29 points per game.
The 2013 Broyles Award finalist, given to the nation’s top assistant coach, plans to continue running a 3-4 defense, but will have multiple adjustments based on weekly opponents.
Last season Pruitt led the Seminoles to be the No.1 passing defensive in the nation giving up just 156.6 passing yards per game to opponents. This season, his main focus will be with Georgia’s young secondary, which allowed 227.4 yards through the air per game, finishing No. 59 in the nation.
Pruitt said he believed Georgia was the best team in the SEC, and wouldn’t have accepted the job had he thought otherwise. That’s a bold statement coming from a man that bolsters two national championship rings from Alabama.
But with his third on the way from this year, it’s set to go in the same spot as the previous two.
“I don’t wear rings. I put them in my safety deposit box and don’t ever touch them because to me I’m not looking in the rearview mirror; I’m looking straight ahead,” Pruitt said. “Hopefully there will be more to get.”