Georgia football coach Mark Richt has been known to leave a lasting impression.
For new Bulldogs defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, that impression remained vivid after more than a decade.
"In 2003, I was a football coach at Fort Payne High School," Pruitt said Wednesday at his introductory news conference in Athens. "I brought two prospects over here to Georgia, and I had the opportunity to meet Coach Richt for the first time. When I walked out of that room 30 minutes later, I was wowed.
"I said right then and there that if I ever had the opportunity to work for him that I wanted to be a part of his staff."
Pruitt became the most high-profile hire of the 14-year Richt era Tuesday when he agreed to coach the Bulldogs just eight days after helping Florida State eclipse Auburn for its first national title since 1999. The Seminoles racked up 35 turnovers this past season and led the nation by allowing just 12.1 points per game.
Florida State is expected to be the preseason No. 1 for 2014, so it was no surprise when Pruitt quickly was asked why he would leave Tallahassee after just one season.
"If you follow this business, there are highs and lows everywhere," he said. "For seven straight years, the SEC won the national championship. FSU is on top right now, and there is never an easy time to leave any place, especially when it's a place where you have such dear friends who gave you an opportunity. But the opportunity to come to the University of Georgia and the chance to work with Coach Richt -- there are a lot of folks who would love to be sitting in this chair today."
Richt was left searching for a defensive coordinator Sunday afternoon after Todd Grantham elected to leave after four seasons for the same position at Louisville. Richt said a big reason for Grantham's departure was the opportunity Grantham now will have to coach with his younger brother, Tony, on Bobby Petrino's Cardinals.
By Tuesday afternoon, he was introducing Pruitt to the Bulldogs, who allowed a program-record 377 points and 29 points per game this past season but return 10 defensive starters. The players erupted in applause when Pruitt was introduced and again when he was finished speaking.
"I've never seen that before," Richt said.
Georgia has at least one defensive vacancy following the resignation last week of secondary coach Scott Lakatos. Richt said defensive line coach Chris Wilson and inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti will remain on staff “if they want to,” but several media outlets were reporting Wednesday night that Olivadotti could be headed to the Washington Redskins and that Wilson could be headed to Southern Cal.
Pruitt coached defensive backs for three seasons at Alabama before handling the secondary in addition to his role as defensive coordinator with FSU. The Bulldogs operated in a 3-4 system under Grantham and will do the same under Pruitt, who added that defenses have to be multiple with the various offenses in today's game.
"We want to be sound and we want to be aggressive, but we also want to make the other team earn it," Pruitt said. "There is a fine line between being aggressive and giving up plays."
Pruitt's friendship with Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend helped in the switch in locales, as Pruitt admitted that the two have talked weekly for the last 15 years. They were Alabama teammates along with current Arizona Cardinals quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens, and all three shared a goal of coaching.
The trio received advice in 1997 from then-Alabama offensive line coach Neil Callaway, who told them to "stick with good people." As Pruitt expressed on multiple occasions Wednesday, Richt fits that description.
"This is a championship staff, and I wouldn't be here today if I didn't believe in Coach Richt and what he stands for and where this program is going," Pruitt said. "There is no doubt this is the best conference in the country, and I feel like the University of Georgia is the best school in the conference."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...