Back when they were at Alabama and eyeing a career in coaching, Jeremy Pruitt and Will Friend would plop down on a couch in assistant coach Neil Callaway’s office.
On Saturday, just days after Pruitt was hired as Georgia’s new defensive coordinator he sat next to Friend at a Bulldogs basketball game where they joined other UGA coaches and some recruits.
Friend’s close connection to Pruitt for nearly two decades—since 1995–got the ball rolling that ended up with the splashy hire of Pruitt off Florida State’s BCS national title winning staff last week.
When Todd Grantham left for Louisville, Friend got in touch with Pruitt to ask him if he was interested in coming to Georgia to replace Grantham. Pruitt had been in Friend’s wedding.
“I knew he thought highly of Georgia and thought highly with guys on this staff,” said Friend, Georgia’s offensive line coach since 2011. “He was excited about it from the get-go.”
Pruitt said he knew in 2003 he wanted to work one day for coach Mark Richt if he got the chance after he accompanied two recruits from Fort Payne (Ala.) High School where Pruitt was an assistant to Georgia for a summer camp.
Richt didn’t remember it specifically.
“You can tell the kid didn’t sign with Georgia,” Pruitt said. “He’d remember if he signed with Georgia.”
Safety Marcus Carter and wide receiver Aaron McDonald from Fort Payne signed with Alabama that next February
Friend and Pruitt, who were roommates at Alabama, are both sons of high school coaches, Chuck Friend and Dale Pruitt.
Friend remembers meeting Pruitt for the first time after Alabama beat Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl to end the 2004 season. Pruitt had just transferred after two seasons as a starter at Middle Tennessee.
“When we came back from the bowl game, he was in the dorm and I may have been one of the first couple of guys that met him,” Friend said. “My roommates previous to him, they were from the area he was (northeast Alabama) in.”
Friend played offensive guard and wore No. 68. Pruitt was a free safety in jersey No. 27.
Friend was a year behind Pruitt.
“Jeremy was kind of like a coach as a player,” Friend said. “He’s the kind of guy kids are going to love. …He’s a great person. He’s a football guy. He’s an energy guy. He’ll be demanding. At the same time, I think guys will know that he’s for them. He’ll be a great recruiter and a great guy to be on the staff with. He’ll be a guy from day one that will go after it and go to work.”
Pruitt remembered when he was an Alabama student assistant in 1997 hanging out with Friend and Freddie Kitchens (now quarterbacks coach with the Arizona Cardinals) in the office of Callaway, the Crimson Tide offensive line coach who later was Georgia’s offensive coordinator and line coach.
“He said `All right guys, you guys want to be ball coaches?’” Pruitt said. “He said, `I’m going to give you one piece of advice: Make sure you stick with good people.’”
The first thing Pruitt brought up when asked how he became Georgia’s defensive coordinator so fast was Friend.
Pruitt called him “one of my best friends. We were college roommates and we stay in touch and we talk weekly. For the last 15 or 20 years, there’s not a week that goes by we don’t talk.”
Pruitt got more exposure than most high school assistant coaches from being on MTV’s “Two-a-Days” at Hoover High (Ala.) before going to Alabama in 2007 but wasn’t even available twice last season to the media at Florida State as coordinator.
Jimbo Fisher, like Nick Saban who Pruitt worked under for six years at Alabama, keeps assistants out of the limelight with interviews.
Pruitt is getting married in May, but Friend didn’t know last week if he will be in his wedding, too.
“That’s the test,” Friend joked, “how close we really are.”