There were no public pursuits of well-known candidates this time for Georgia’s defensive coordinator opening.
Coach Mark Richt zeroed in quickly on his target and landed Jeremy Pruitt in lickity-split fashion. It took two days from the time Todd Grantham walked out the door for Louisville until Pruitt walked in from Florida State after one season as its coordinator.
“Thankfully Plan A worked out,” Richt said Wednesday sitting beside Pruitt in the Georgia team meeting room for an introductory news conference.
A day after Grantham told Richt about Louisville’s offer, Richt said he was informed at about 11 a.m. Sunday that Grantham accepted the new job while Richt was attending the national coaching convention in Indianapolis.
Richt said there was plenty of interest from other coaches in the gig, but said he spoke to only one other coach — who Richt would not name — on the phone about the position, with speculation again during the quick search centered on Alabama defensive coordinator and former Bulldog defensive back Kirby Smart, who turned down the job in 2010.
Richt made it clear that Pruitt was his guy all along.
“What’s most important by far is to get the right person no matter how long it takes, but if you can get the right person in the time frame that we got like we did, I’m not sure there wasn’t some divine intervention in the whole thing,” Richt said. “It worked out great.”
Pruitt jumped at a chance to join his good friend Will Friend, Georgia’s offensive line coach and a former Alabama teammate.
“Obviously, when the job came open just the small talk we have weekly, he mentioned it to me and asked if I would be interested,” Pruitt said. “This is the University of Georgia, who wouldn’t be interested in this job? Absolutely. It’s one of the premier jobs in college football. The opportunity to work with coach Richt, it’s something I just couldn’t turn down.”
He already liked what he knew of Richt from meeting him in 2003 when Pruitt escorted two recruits from Fort Payne High School to a Georgia summer camp.
Some wondered why he would leave after one undefeated season at Florida State to join a team that went 8-5 last season with gave up 30 or more points eight times, a program record.
“If you follow this business, there are highs and lows everywhere,” Pruitt said. “For the last seven years, the SEC’s won the national championships and FSU is on top now. There’s never an easy time to leave any place, especially a place that you had such dear friends who gave you an opportunity and the players there.”
Pruitt is heading out Thursday on the first day of the recruiting contact period with plenty of buzz just 10 days after he coached the Seminoles to the BCS national championship.
Pruitt has a three-year deal expected to be worth about $850,000 annually, which is what Grantham was making when he left for Louisville.
Asked if Florida State and coach Jimbo Fisher had a chance to counter offer to match the raise of more than $300,000 that Pruitt is expected to get, Pruitt said: “Me and Coach Fisher are very good friends, but when I decided this is what I wanted to do, I let him know and that was it.”
Just four years ago, Pruitt was making $105,000 as Alabama’s director of player development.
The last time he had an opening, Richt pursued Smart, Virginia Tech’s Bud Foster and LSU’s John Chavis before hiring Grantham in 2010.
“There’s risk in talking to guys that are at a Florida State or at whatever school,” Richt said. “You take a risk if you shoot for the stars, so to speak, in that a guy might be totally sincere and then at the moment of truth, he’s not able to do that and for good reasons. There are a lot reasons why guys change their mind at the last moment. If you do a lot of that, it can prolong your search. Thankfully, Coach was very sincere in his interest and he was very sincere in following through in what he said he wanted to do.”
Grantham will earn $1 million a year in a five-year contract, according to ESPN, but Richt said a big reason he wanted to go to Louisville was the chance to hire his brother, Tony, from Navy’s staff. Georgia has nepotism laws that won’t allow that to happen, Richt said.
With an opening to fill, Richt took a flight back to Athens Monday and met with the defensive players in a 4 p.m. meeting to “let them know that everything was going to be OK.”
“Within 24 hours, we had another 4 o’clock meeting and I introduced Coach Pruitt to the players,” Richt said.
Richt was easily impressed with what Pruitt had done.
He was at Alabama when it won three national championships — in 2009 on the administrative staff and in 2011 and 2012 as secondary coach — and won another at Florida State as coordinator.
“One thing I like to do before I hire a guy is just find out what he’s about,” Richt said.
He turned to Friend, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and running backs coach Bryan McClendon to fill him in on that. They knew Pruitt through coaching circles.
“I know how good he is and how good he is to work with,” Friend said.
Richt said he spoke to Pruitt on the phone and was “100 percent convinced” that Pruitt was the right fit to be coordinator.
“He just needs to be himself,” Richt said, “and get to work.”