If you want to interview Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia’s defensive coordinator, there are two things you must be prepared for. First of all, he really ain’t (to use his down-home vernacular) that excited about being interviewed. Next you can count on short answers.
ATHENS - Sheldon Dawson and Jeremy Pruitt during practice at Georgia's Fall Camp at Woodruff Practice Fields on August 1, 2014. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
There are a number of analogies you can make when you become familiar with the aforementioned. It should be noted as we move forward that he isn’t uncooperative. He just wants his defense to do the talking. If you gain his confidence and review personnel with him, he can’t help but be candid.
It is ingrained in his nature to be honest. Candor underlies his conversations, but just to be sure that what you talk about doesn’t end up on the Internet, his motto is, if you don’t talk, you don’t get burned. If you ask him a question with a statement, something based on what you have observed, your answer may very well be, “Yes sir, you are right.” Your depth-finder may not tell you very much.
What can be gleaned from all this is that if his players play the way he meets the press, they’ll become characterized as walking softly and carrying a big stick.
Their performance will become their calling card. He wants his defense to become so effective and proficient that Coach Mark Richt will have to order a big supply of the Erk Russell t-shirts, “Big ‘TEAM,’ little ‘me.’” Make no mistake about it. Things will be done his way. There’ll be no slackers, there’ll be no loafing, and there’ll be no shortcuts.
Recently I had an appointment with him at 7:15 a.m,, but when I got to his office, his office was dark and the door was shut. When I knocked on the door and peeked in, he was asleep on his sofa. He had worked until the wee hours and grabbed a few winks before starting a new day.
“How often do you follow this routine?”
“Lately, a lot,” he said. “My wife is out of town, so it is easier to get a couple of hours of rest here. This is the best environment for concentrated tape study.”
A coach who expects a lot from his players and his staff must expect a lot of himself.
This is a man who spent eight years coaching high school football. He says the best teachers are the high school coaches. He still learns from them. He would rather watch a high school game than the Super Bowl.
When Sam Wyche, the father of the no-huddle offense, spoke at Georgia’s high school clinic in the spring, Pruitt locked down in his office with a couple of high school coaches. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate Wyche’s expertise, he had made a commitment to the coaches and he wasn’t going to break the appointment for any reason. Talking ball with a high school coach makes his day.
Pruitt can tell you succinctly what he has learned from mentors like Nick Saban, Gene Stallings and Jimbo Fisher. He reserves his greatest respect for Bill Oliver for whom he played. Oliver played at Alabama and later coached at both Alabama and Auburn. Oliver taught “fundamentals” and “tackling.” Pruitt believes the defensive basics never changed.
“You gotta tackle, but the first thing is you got to get lined up. You got to be ready at the snap.”
He believes in the old Erk Russell mantra, KISS (keep it simple, stupid). This leads him to use one-word calls for the defense. If he signals a call to the defense, like “Viper,” everyone knows what his assignment is.
Defensive players must be smart to flourish in Pruitt’s system. To succeed, they must “tackle well.” The defense must not give up big plays. He reminds his players that “getting off blocks has become a lost art.” In conversation, he sounds a lot like Nick Saban.
“Anything else?” I asked as he was moving on to a meeting: “Yeah,” he said with jaw-setting resolve. “We gotta create turnovers on defense. I don’t think there have been too many of those around here lately,” his candor surfacing, not so much as a criticism but rather a challenge. He expects his defense to create turnovers, and he expects his defense to expect turnovers of themselves.
Interestingly, he doesn’t believe the rules favor the offense. He really doesn’t care. And what does he look for in a defensive back?
“The type who wants the quarterback to throw it right at him every snap.”
The new sheriff in town is going to bring about a lot of excitement with the Georgia defense. One thing you can count on. The defense will be held accountable week to week.
Loran Smith is a contributing columnist to the Athens Banner-Herald