Importing the Process

I don’t know if you ever got around to reading Bud Elliott’s lengthy post about how FSU got its mojo back under Jimbo Fisher, but it’s an interesting read.  The part that should be of most interest to us is about Fisher’s hire of Jeremy Pruitt.  Fisher knew what he was looking for when he went out shopping for a replacement for Mark Stoops.

But Fisher wanted more. He wanted the system he used to face every day in practice at LSU. He wanted Saban’s defense. And to get it, he took a big risk in hiring Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama’s defensive backs coach. The 38-year-old Pruitt came to Tallahassee with no experience as a coordinator and only three seasons as a position coach at the FBS level. Further, since Saban coaches defensive backs as his specialty, many wondered just how much Pruitt had been involved in the excellent Alabama defensive attack.

“His knowledge of the game, his experience in how he has handled some things when he got on the [whiteboard] and his answers to playing spread things,” Fisher said in 2012 of his hire. “He’s had great success against the open teams that have been out there, from [Gus] Malzahn and all those guys in that league, and the way they’ve played and done those things. We have a great rapport, and he is no doubt ready to be a coordinator.”

Now, Mark Richt’s already gone through one Saban guy as a defensive coordinator.  I don’t think that was a driving factor in Richt’s decision to hire Todd Grantham – if I recall correctly, Richt said at the time he wasn’t specifically looking for a 3-4 guy, just the guy he thought would be the best fit – but I wonder if that was more important to him when it came to replacing Grantham.  For one thing, with Pruitt running a similar scheme, Richt still gets some of that continuity he was hoping for after last season came to an end.  For another, I continue to think that the Sherrer hire is an indication that Richt likes what he’s seen at both Alabama and FSU from a bigger picture standpoint in fashioning a defense.

One way in which Pruitt differs from Grantham is in his background.  Fisher had something interesting to say about that, too.

He’d also wanted a defensive coordinator with a background in defensive backs, like Saban.

“In today’s game, being able to go back to front is very critical, because of the spread,” Fisher said. “You have to be able to match your secondary coverages to your fronts. Who’s going to fit, how they’re going to fit, how you’re going to handle certain play actions, how you’re going to handle certain coverages. And I think it is much easier to go back to front than it is front to back. I think that knowledge is [crucial], especially the way the game is being played today, with such a spread dynamic to it.”

“Because of the spread” wasn’t something we heard a lot about from Richt when he hired Grantham.  But you’d have to think it’s a lot more on Richt’s mind now than it was in 2010, because of a changing SEC.  (Of course, with Alabama getting punched around by HUNH attacks last season, you wouldn’t be blamed for wondering if that Saban tree is all it’s cracked up to be.  But I digress.)

We were all excited with the Grantham hire because, well, to some extent, we thought anybody would be a step up from Martinez, because Grantham talked a good game about his coaching philosophy, because of his demeanor and because he did a good job articulating talent evaluation.  What we didn’t know until time had passed was that there would be an issue translating what was in Grantham’s head into on-field execution.  If Georgia wants to succeed at an elite level, that can’t happen any more.

Is Pruitt the coach who can bridge that gap?  There’s no way to know for sure until we see how things look in the opener.  I hope Richt at some point lets us in about his thought process leading to the hire, because I’d like to know if the last four seasons have changed his approach to what he wants out of a defensive coordinator.  All I can say about what I know now is that I don’t want to be excited anymore.  I want to be impressed.

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44 Comments

Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

44 responses to “Importing the Process

  1. Skeeter

    Great post, Senator! While I enjoy a good, short snark as much as the next bloke, I really appreciate your longer posts like this one.

  2. The other Doug

    How long has it been since Georgia shut a good team down?

    • Normaltown Mike

      We did a pretty good job shutting down ourselves in the Gator Bowl.

      • While I agree with your premise of it being a long time since UGA played lights out on D, I think the real question is what constitutes “shutting down a good team?”

        As I see it, CFB is now more like the NFL in the sense that what wins isn’t lock down defense, but red-zone defense. Teams move from 20-to-20 with relative ease, but it’s in the red zone where teams make their money.

        Shutting down an AUB/Oregon type of offense is almost impossible if you judge YPP and total yards. You have to look at how often you limit them to FGs. I think we (CFB fans) need to look at what good defense truly is in CFB now. It’s not what it was even 5 years ago. The offenses are too complex, too well coached and they operate many times under a different set of rules than do the defenses.

    • Go Dawgs!

      For an entire game? It’s been a while, but stonings of good team like the way FSU throttled Clemson last year are pretty rare. Now, once Auburn got a 17 point lead on Georgia, they ‘Dawgs shut them down pretty hard. If not for a horrible misplay by two defenders who were in position to stuff an unlikely deep ball, Georgia wins that game. I think we can all agree that Auburn was pretty good last year. They won the league.

      • AlphaDawg

        I can’t think of a single meaningful game( Vandy doesn’t count) under Grantham were the Defense carried the day, not a qtr or a half but the entire game.

        • Rp

          Cocktail Party 2012. Granted that FLA offense was crap, but our D came to play that game and was better than our O that day. Thnx Shawn Williams.

  3. hassan

    In my most humble opinion as an armchair coach….I always thought that Grantham’s biggest knock was that he couldn’t relate the scheme to the kids. They were simply confused most of the time (when Jarvis Jones says that the Steelers’ defensive playbook is simpler than UGA’s, that should tell you something). When the 3-4 works, it is a beautiful thing…a lot of disguises and a lot of pressure. The idea is to keep the other team’s offense guessing. Problem was we kept our own defense guessing. Pruitt brings in the continuity of the scheme with the ability to simplify it for the kids. The 3-4 requires a certain type of personnel and it’s a huge benefit that we don’t have to spend a year or two trying to recruit for a different scheme.

    • Scorpio Jones, III

      “The idea is to keep the other team’s offense guessing. Problem was we kept our own defense guessing.”

      nicely done, Hassan…and exactly on point…even the towel boy looked confused most of the time. Grantham, on the other hand looked either surprised or confused or both.

      I wonder if I am going to be able to afford to see what happens.

    • Daniel Simpson Day

      This.

    • The idea is to keep the other team’s offense guessing. Problem was we kept our own defense guessing.

      LOL. Well said.

      The 3-4 requires a certain type of personnel and it’s a huge benefit that we don’t have to spend a year or two trying to recruit for a different scheme.

      That may be the biggest thing. BTW, while there’ll be some continuity, there’ll also be some change, and for the better, IMHO (as I mention in the long post below).
      ~~~

  4. DawgPhan

    To be honest, i think that the “couldn’t relate it to the kids” meme is giving CTG a little too much credit. I wonder if he really had anything to teach the kids. That some how his brilliance was lost in translation.

    When I have encountered this in my career, including myself, I always think of it as the “smartest man in the room” syndrome. The person trying to relay some crucial piece of information is confused because the evidence seems so obvious to them. They focus on why the other person isnt “getting it” instead of trying to figure out new ways to deliver it.

    That, to me, is CTG in a nutshell. Always confused as to way his players weren’t doing the obvious thing and never focusing on getting them to understand the obvious.

    • Normaltown Mike

      +1

    • Joe Schmoe

      To add to this, the smartest teachers I ever had were also the best ones because they understood the subject matter so well that they could break it down to its simplest components. I don’t think CTG is as smart as he may think it is.

  5. mdcgtp

    Ultimately, Pruitt will be judged on results not his resume or press conferences. We all know this.

    What makes the hire interesting is that it is another indication that the pool of candidates that are capable is broader and deeper than most think. The vent is awash in the stupidity of glomming on to any recognizable name. It’s stupid and the ADs and coaches who keep recycling mediocrity deserve their fate. Worse yet, they keep escalating the payout for these guys. I understand paying up for Clayton Kershaw. There are very very very few human beings on earth that can do what he does. Paying up for Brett Bielema or butch jones or Geoff Collins or Doug nussmeier is sheer stupidity given how many other guys can do what they do.

    • Olddawg 55

      Right on with that thought. Saban, at least, looked into Hoover’s staff and saw some bright young coaches who could help at the CFB level. There are a lot more out there, old and young, and bringing them up to non-position staff to absorb the flow of a team’s play is even smarter (re Saban and others’ consultants). Richt should let Pruitt look for these individuals.

  6. Dog in Fla

    “What we didn’t know until time had passed was that there would be an issue translating what was in Grantham’s head into on-field execution.”

    Maybe Todd was unclear on the “ho, pawr, ho” concept:

    “Before the season, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was explaining how he installs his defense. The audio was captured by ESPN Radio in Tallahassee, and in his thick country accent, Pruitt sounded like he was saying “ho, pawr, ho.” Local radio host Jeff Cameron could not figure out what Pruitt was saying. The answer? “Whole, part, whole.” It became a popular sound clip played on the show.

    Basically, Pruitt would throw the whole defense at the players, dial it back and work on parts, and then see how much of the whole the group could handle. This was done masterfully.

    FSU did not run the complete Saban defense in 2013. It did run much more pattern-matching zone defense than it had under Stoops, but Pruitt was careful not to install stuff that made his players act slowly and think too much. Injected into a secondary that will eventually produce six or seven NFL defensive backs, this was extremely effective. Pruitt wanted fast, physical play, and he got it with the perfect blend of old and new schemes.”

  7. Midtown Dawg

    If this guy’s forte is defensive-back scheming, he’s come to the right place at the right time. We had a lot of glaring needs last year, but I’d call our secondary play the biggest need of all. It was embarrassing how often our DBs were waving their arms in confusion before the snap. It seemed to happen frequently in every game. Plus, anybody and everybody was able to throw on us.

  8. JasonC

    Senator et al.,
    There was a good article on Grantland by Chris Brown about Pete Carroll. It talks about the key of having an ideology (over just a scheme). But there were some interesting bits about how Carroll handled his defenses at SF, USC and Seattle, and the differences of working with college kids vs. pros.

  9. Derek

    The thing I liked about FSU’s approach vs. Auburn was how often they brought pressure with DB’s out of the nickel. While they got burnt doing it a few times, enough of the time it it resulted in plays of either minimal, no gain or in some instances lost yards. If you can get that offense “off schedule”, i.e., 2nd and 9 to 13, you have a great opportunity to force a punt or force a throw into coverage on 2nd or 3rd downs. I also think that bringing pressure creates the attacking mind set that you need.

    • Good point.

      Early on, Pruitt installed those blitz packages because FSU couldn’t get a pass rush with its DE’s. Then, a few weeks into the schedule, they made a personnel change, putting their MLB at DE, and voila, they had a DE pass rush AND a sound secondary blitz package.

      And it came in handy down the road.
      ~~~

  10. AusDawg85

    ” I hope Richt at some point lets us in about his thought process leading to the hire…” Not snark, honest question…has there been a real in-depth interview with CMR about UGA football philosophy,results, etc? There was a great article a year or so ago about his personal life, and all the tidbits from presser’s and the Monday night radio show, clips of him coaching, etc., but where is the real sit-down with a good interviewer?

  11. Macallanlover

    This discussion is an excellent representation of why this blog is the “go to” blog for adult fans of Georgia, and college football as a whole. It encompasses both the macro and micro concerns relative to defense in today’s CFB game to the nuts and bolts of teaching specific athletes. You had to be impressed with Jimbo’s approach last year, and you can understand why UGA fans are so hopeful the Dawgs will see benefits from this hire before the end of August. We have recruited highly-respected athletes for years, now it seems they might have a chance to perform on the field and showcase those talents.

    It just may be as simple as Grantham not being able to communicate to this level of player, but I am not sure he had the depth required to coach the whole of defense in such a diversified environment. Doesn’t matter to us now, that is Petrino’s concern, but I think we begin to see noticeable improvement immediately. Then, how do we keep him for 3-4 years to get this entrenched if we get back to being a defense worthy enough of being called “junkyard”? As noted above, it has been a long time since we could be confident the defense would not only hold up their share of the load, but be dominant regardless of what is thrown at them. That day of dominance may be gone forever with all the rule benefits the offense gets these days, but our offense is getting that same edge so the playing field is at least level in that regard. I just want to see a complete defense knowing their assignments against the run and the pass and exhibiting a knowledge of sound fundamentals.

    Giving up 24 points in today’s game may be the new 13 so we may have to adjust our expectations a bit. I want to see some DBs in the same camera frame as opponents’ receivers, I will take my chances that they will know what to do from there. And I want to see some aggressive front 7 play disrupting the offenses and pressuring the QBs (although we did get some pressure the past two years, maybe better disguised blitzes and just sealing the escape routes.) Not declaring this a victory yet but a big batch of Kool Aide is being placed on ice in anticipation.

    • Ginny

      Great post. I think people expecting the early 2000s kind of defensive performances are going to be pretty disappointed. There are a number of factors like you mentioned working against it. Greg Blue and Thomas Davis would have been ejected several times in their careers with today’s rules. Spread and no-huddle offense have completely changed certain defensive measuring sticks. We need to accept that we’re in a new offensive era and adapt accordingly. I’d be fine with improved fundamentals and assignment football, as cliche as that sounds.

      • Bulldawg165

        I’ll just settle with being in the top 3 in the conference and within a field goal or two per game of the number one team in the conference most years. This would be on par with how our offense has performed so I firmly believe it can be done.

    • Good post, Macallan.
      ~~~

  12. Dawgbro42

    Senator -

    Enjoyed the post as always. But after the mumbles about CJP’s reasons for coming to Georgia alleged by Tomahawk Nation (which were festered by Bud Elliott), you won’t catch me clicking over there. But thanks for dampening your petticoats to bring us the good stuff, as usual.

  13. boldspringsdawg

    First half of the 2011 SEC Championship game against LSU was the best display of defense I have seen out of UGA. Too bad the second half was equally as bad(horrible) as the first was good(great)

    • By Georgia We Did It

      That was Grantham’s best half by far, but like you said the 2nd half was a disaster. The best under Richt was the 2nd half vs. Auburn in 2002 (Greene to Johnson 4th and 19). I also thought one of the best defensive games was the one against Hawaii (way outmatched) and the 2005 game against Boise st. The 04 game vs LSU was a good one as well.

      • The best under Richt was the 2nd half vs. Auburn in 2002

        Yep. Sean Jones gave us the spark we needed, on defense as well as the whole team, by making 3 or 4 great plays. And BTW, we haven’t had that kind of safety play since. Davis and Blue did a good job, but they weren’t the overall athlete that Jones was.

        Now we have a chance to develop some safeties like we’ve needed. All we need is the athlete with those kind of instincts and ball skills. I’m hoping Tramel Terry might be that guy.
        ~~~

  14. That is a great post, Blutarsky.

    Mark Richt’s already gone through one Saban guy as a defensive coordinator.

    Yeah, but only in the broadest sense. By the time he got to Athens, Grantham had his own system in place. And as we know, it wasn’t a good fit for Georgia.

    One of the main differences is Grantham’s 34 front is based on a 1-gap scheme, where the DL only has the responsibility for 1 gap, either to his right or left. The other key difference is a front-to-back approach to the defense. The Belichick/Saban 34 uses a 2-gap scheme up front, which makes a lot more sense to me.

    I never understood, even after listening to Grantham explain it shortly after he arrived 4 years ago, why a 1-gap was superior. And don’t think it is, especially with passive/reactive ILB’s. And I think the lack of a good DL/ILB fit was a significant part of our defensive problems under Grantham.

    Anyway, I haven’t heard Pruitt say anything about this, but I assume we’re safe in thinking that fundamental change will be made, and we’ll go to a 2-gap 34 front. Sure hope so.

    And of course Grantham brought none of the “process” stuff, which I think is sometimes hyped as a total Saban creation, when it is nothing more than a combination of coaching things that have been around forever, plus some structural innovations Saban came up with while adjusting to the rules and just perfecting his own process as he had opportunity, with things like hiring coaches for support staff, etc..

    It IS a significant part of the structure that you need these days though, and Saban deserves credit for that. It’s just that most of Saban’s “process” consists of coaching things that have been tested and been around a long time.

    But whatever process Grantham brought to Athens, it’s clear it didn’t work.

    From the linked article ….

    Knowing Florida State’s defense needed a confidence boost and a rebuild of fundamentals, Fisher brought in defensive coordinator Mark Stoops of Arizona, whose defenses were renowned for disciplined play.

    That’s interesting, because it describes our defense right now. Far from being the “backbone” of the Georgia program, our defense was broken down and heading fast in a southward direction. Which is one of the main reasons I was depressed and saw no light at the end of the tunnel, understanding there was little realistic hope for this team when Richt announced he would maintain the status quo.

    Grantham’s defense, no matter how the personnel turned over, was never going to be any better than it already had been. The upside was an average SEC defense for a team like Georgia, like the one we saw in 2011. And that will never be good enough. I mean, that was the upside. And it seemed very doubtful to me that we would reach that in 2014.

    Add in all the other problems, on the field and off, in the way the defense was being coached, and there was just no light. Not that there aren’t other problems, but the defense was headed south and was taking the team with it. Regardless of how it happened, and maybe it was Divine intervention, there’s no question in my mind that the combination of the Grantham move/Pruitt hire saved the day for Richt.

    Basically, Pruitt would throw the whole defense at the players, dial it back and work on parts, and then see how much of the whole the group could handle. This was done masterfully.

    Makes sense. And the opposite of the way Grantham installed, IIRC. The main thing is – it worked.

    FSU did not run the complete Saban defense in 2013. It did run much more pattern-matching zone defense than it had under Stoops …

    How sweet is that music? Suffice to say, without going into the ‘pattern-matching zone’, just imagine Corey Moore standing in the middle of the field, with absolutely nothing going on around him, while the offense completes a TD pass not 15 yards from where has was standing, doing nothing. NO MORE OF THAT CRAP.

    … but Pruitt was careful not to install stuff that made his players act slowly and think too much. Injected into a secondary that will eventually produce six or seven NFL defensive backs, this was extremely effective. Pruitt wanted fast, physical play, and he got it with the perfect blend of old and new schemes.

    So Pruitt didn’t install all of the secondary packages at FSU, and it worked. He’s already told his players he won’t give them more than they can handle. He got that out of the way quick, undoubtedly coached up on that point by Richt.

    As exciting as all that is, and to me it’s a 10, we’re going to have to wait and see what we look like against Clemson and South Carolina. We have to remember we don’t have FSU’s players, and we haven’t recruited well in the secondary, particularly. And despite all the returnees, there are other personnel problems on the defense. All returnees are not created equal, another thing that Grantham apparently had no eye for.

    So without question, Pruitt has his work cut out for him. He has inherited a huge mess. But for the first time in a very long time, I believe we can be confident that Pruitt is at least up to the task. That he knows how to coach, and he knows the game well enough to maintain cutting-edge defenses that are designed to effectively defend the different offenses we have to play.
    ~~~

    • Macallanlover

      And the key point in your post Ivey was it was “Grantham’s system…and it wasn’t a good fit at Georgia.” Bingo. A system has to be broad enough in it’s strategy to allow for flexible tactics. I cannot imagine that Butch Harmon, who taught both Tiger and Phil, taught them exactly the same. Just as any good golf teacher, the system has to be customized to fit the individual’s level of athletic ability, and physical features. It must also be presented in a way that will best communicate the objectives to the athlete to insure they receive and embrace them.

      When managing people, I have found the manager must keep the company’s mission and goals in mind, but to maximize the buy in of subordinates, especially those at lower levels, they should have it customized and explained differently based on their own personality. You can be direct and straight forward with some, no sugar coating necessary, others need to be approached and comforted more. One size does not fit all in any organization I have encountered. Doesn’t matter what Grantham brought with him, it couldn’t be shoved down everyone’s throat, ans had to be tweaked.

      • Yeah, I think so. Grantham certainly seemed inflexible in many ways. He talked it, but never walked it.

        And we already know that Pruitt will be not only flexible and open, but will do whatever is best for the defense, whether its rotating and developing players, switching players to a different position, making adjustments .. what ever it is.
        ~~~