Posted: 12:10 pm Wednesday, January 15th, 2014
By Chip Towers
It’s been interesting to read the some accounts of what happened during Georgia’s brief search for a defensive coordinator. Some would have you believe the Bulldogs had this intense back-and-forth negotiation with Alabama’s Kirby Smart before then turning their attention to Jeremy Pruitt.
Logic and the timeline as outlined by coach Mark Richt on Tuesday indicate that scenario could not be further from the truth. For better or worse, Jeremy Pruitt was Georgia’s first and only choice.
Think about it. At the earliest, it would have been Sunday before Mark Richt could have turned his attention to hiring a replacement for Todd Grantham. It wasn’t until after Georgia’s basketball game against Alabama that the Bulldogs were informed of Louisville’s interest by Grantham, and Grantham said he needed some time to think about it. On Sunday Grantham told Georgia of the five-year, $5 million offer and was told the Bulldogs wouldn’t match it. By Monday night, Pruitt was in Athens. He was the Bulldogs’ coach by lunchtime Tuesday.
“We had a 4 o’clock meeting the day (Monday) after Coach Grantham told me (he was leaving),” Richt said. “Within 24 hours we had another 4 o’clock meeting and I introduced Coach Pruitt to the players. So it did happen fast and I’m thankful it did. But I’m most thankful we got the right man for the job.”
As for UGA floating these exorbitant salaries Smart’s way, that makes no sense on many levels. First of all, Smart already embarrassed Georgia once. He was the first to turn them down after Richt fired Willie Martinez in 2009. Bud Foster and John Chavis followed suit and each of them left with hefty raises from their respective schools. The Bulldogs weren’t about to go down that road again.
“You take a risk if you shoot for the stars, so to speak,” Richt said at Pruitt’s introductory news conference on Tuesday. “A guy might be totally sincere in his desire to be on your staff and right at the moment of truth he’s not able to do it, and for good reasons. … If you do a lot of that, it could prolong your search. Thankfully Coach Pruitt was very sincere in his interest and was sincere in following through with doing what he said he wanted to do. I’m very grateful to him because of it because we’re got here very quickly.”
Never mind the complications of bringing in Smart — a peer and close friend of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo — at $1 million more a year in salary than the next closest assistant, which happens to be Bobo. That would probably be negative. Smart was already making $1.3 million at Alabama while winning national championships and working for an older coach. He would have required at least a 10 percent raise to make a lateral move and probably more.
Finally, this hire appears to be a move based primarily on relationships. Pruitt spoke of Georgia’s Will Friend, his former roommate at Alabama, being his best friend and somebody he has talked to every week. In fact, it was Friend who brokered the whole deal, initially reaching out to his buddy. Pruitt also called Bobo and John Lilly friends and has gotten to know Bryan McClendon well on the recruiting trail over the years.
But multiple times, Pruitt said the main reason he’s now at Georgia was, “the guy sitting next to me right here,” referring to Richt. They’d first met when Pruitt was a high school assistant and brought over a couple of prospects from Ft. Payne High.
“I said then that was somebody I wanted to work for if I ever got a chance,” Pruitt said.
As for leaving the FSU and Jimbo Fisher, for whom he worked only one year and won a national championship in that one, Pruitt was succinct in his explanation.
“Coach Fisher and me are good friends, but when I decided what I wanted to do, I let him know and that was it,” Pruitt said.
Richt did say he made “one other phone call” at the outset of his search. That may or may not have been to Smart to gauge interest. But it certainly never got to the point that anything in the way of terms or conditions would have been discussed. Very quickly the Bulldogs were laser-focused on Pruitt and vice-versa. Such things aren’t kept but it might have been a record turnaround at Georgia, certainly in the Richt.
This was a one-man show, and Richt got his man.
“It was almost like there was divine intervention,” Richt said.