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.