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Former Georgia D-coordinator Jeremy Pruitt a high-risk hire for Tennessee
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Former Georgia D-coordinator Jeremy Pruitt a high-risk hire for Tennessee

Former Georgia D-coordinator Jeremy Pruitt a high-risk hire for Tennessee

Former Georgia D-coordinator Jeremy Pruitt a high-risk hire for Tennessee

ATHENS – I have to admit, I was pretty taken aback when I saw that Tennessee hired Jeremy Pruitt as head coach on Thursday. Surprised? For sure. Shocked? Probably not.

After viewing the Vols’ coaching search from afar, I was resigned that anything could happen. For what it’s worth, from the beginning, or at least from the point that major candidates started turning them down, I always thought Tennessee would do well to hire Tee Martin. And I was certain that’s what they’d end up doing after they made Phillip Fulmer their new athletic director. You know, he’s one of Phil’s players, a beloved Vols’ figure, minority coach, national champion, offensive coordinator at USC. If anybody could heal the Big Orange Nation, he’d probably do it. Made sense.

Or certainly Kevin Steele. More polished resume’, defensive guy, former UT player, connected to the Nick Saban tree. A lot of checks there.

Heck, Georgia’s Mel Tucker looked like a fine candidate to me. I didn’t want to see the Bulldogs lose him, either, but that kind of comes with the territory when you start winning championships.

So when I saw Pruitt was being interviewed, I thought to myself, “good for him. That will be good experience for when he’s ready to make that move to a mid-level program and probably get him a little bump in pay.”

It never occurred to me the Vols would actually hire him.

Let me back up here. I always thought that Pruitt would one day be a college head coach. He told me he wanted to be. Just not this soon, and certainly not at an SEC institution like Tennessee as a jumping off point. That’s why I think for the Vols this could be a home run or a disaster. Can’t wait to see which.

One thing I learned about Pruitt in his tumultuous two-year run at Georgia as Mark Richt’s defensive coordinator is the man knows his football. He’s good football coach. Specifically, he’s a good defensive coach.

Pruitt came to Georgia in 2014 to succeed Todd Grantham and immediately went to work, both on the defense and in recruiting. On the heels of a national championship run in his only season at Florida State, Pruitt moved quickly to simplify the Bulldogs’ defense. Georgia had been good on defense in four years under Grantham, but also prone to giving up explosive plays because it his system was complicated and called for a lot of different blitzes, coverages and sets. In the press box, we used to refer to it as “third-and-Grantham.”

Pruitt immediately implemented the defense he’d learned from Saban at Alabama and had carried with him to FSU. He used to refer to it as “aggressively simple” or “simply aggressive” or something like that. The point he made was he didn’t want his guys slowed down by thinking too much. He wanted fast guys who would react quickly to whatever it was they saw and, of course, to attack the football.

And that’s pretty much what Georgia got. The Bulldogs as an overall team weren’t great in 2014 and ’15 – they won 10 games both years — but they weren’t awful and few of their problems had to do with defense. In the end, Richt got fired at the end of the 2015 regular season, Kirby Smart got hired as head coach and he elected to not retain Pruitt, even though Pruitt had worked on his defensive staff just a few years earlier at Alabama.

No, Smart chose to bring Tucker, his secondary coach, with him from Tuscaloosa and make him defensive coordinator. Saban, in turn, brought Pruitt back to Bama as defensive coordinator just four years after he’d left there as secondary coach.

And Pruitt has done a great job there. The No. 4-ranked Crimson Tide (11-1) has led the SEC in scoring and total defense the last two seasons just like they have pretty much every year since Saban has been there. The only blemish, if one can call it that, is Bama hasn’t won the national championship with Pruitt as the d-coordinator.

Maybe it yet will. Pruitt negotiated with Tennessee to let him coach the Tide in the national playoff semifinals, just as Smart did with Georgia. The Tide faces No. 1 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, and the hope for both the Vols and Bama is that it will end similarly.

But where Pruitt is concerned, I’d also advise UT to proceed with caution. One can use a lot of words to describe his management style, but subtle wouldn’t be one of them. Pruitt is brash and abrasive at times, he can be brazen on the field and off, and he could definitely be described as arrogant. This is man who seems to know what he wants and know how to get it, whether it be a cornerback with “good hip turn and foot speed,” as he used to say, or an indoor practice facility.

Where Pruitt’s tenure is going to be most interesting to be me is going to be in the area of decorum and politics. At Georgia at least, he wasn’t just a man who didn’t mind stepping on toes, he might put his pickup truck in reverse and roll over them again just to make sure you felt him.

Pruitt is best known at Georgia for his tirade at the end of the 2014 season about the Bulldogs’ desperate need for an indoor practice facility. Unbeknown to any one at the school, namely Richt, he told reporters after another rained out practice how ridiculous it was that they didn’t have one and how he was here to tell folks that they were going to get one and he happened to know one was going to be built and ready for the next season.

As we’re all well aware, UGA know has its coveted Indoor Athletic Facility, though Pruitt’s timeline was off by a year. To this day, us beat guys joke that they should call it the “Pruitt Practice Facility.”

I joke because the machinations to have it built were already underway behind the scenes. But, by golly, Pruitt had seen enough and he wanted Georgia’s recruits to know right then and there this was about to be done, protocol be damned.

And that’s kind of how the man rolls. So while Pruitt is a coach that gets things done, he’s also one that rubs a lot of others the wrong way. That certainly was the case between him and Richt but, more importantly, between him and his fellow coaches.

People have always been guarded about details but it’s no secret that Pruitt’s presence had contributed to some dissension on Richt’s staff. Specifically, it created a divide kind of along the lines of the Alabama boys versus everybody else. Pruitt was tight with outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer and defensive line coach Tracy Rocker not so much with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and inside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler and a few others.

It’s funny how things get exaggerated over time. Two different Tennessee reporters asked me Thursday if it was true that Richt and Pruitt had gotten into an altercation of some sort in the coaches’ offices. I laughed, because it isn’t. But I do happen to know that one of Georgia’s assistants that year had to be held back from going after Pruitt because of what he said in one of those meetings late in the 2015 season.

So, yes, I’d say it’s safe to say that Pruitt had a polarizing effect at Georgia. But he also helped expedite the building of an indoor facility, the players who played for him loved him and he certainly knew what good players looked like. Not only did he reel in 5-star prospects like Mecole Hardman for the Bulldogs, but he also had a knack for finding the hidden gem. Pruitt gets credit for Dominick Sanders coming to UGA. A 3-star prospect at Tucker High, Sanders is a four-year starter at safety for the Bulldogs.

And that, more than anything else, should serve the Vols well. There has been a four-alarm, tire fire burning up on Rocky Top for a while now, and that’s likely to keep UT out of the living rooms of the most elite recruits for the time being. But Pruitt knows where and how to find some good ones who may have been overlooked, not to mention all the prospects and coaches with whom he has built a relationship at Alabama, Georgia and Florida State these past four years.

So I understand what Fulmer and whoever else is meeting with candidates saw in Pruitt. I heard he “blew away” his interview. Must have, for the Vols to choose him over Steele and Martin and whoever else they might have talked to. But it’s a risky hire. Riskier, I’d say than some of these other first-time head coaches who have been brought in after long tenures as coordinators at major programs, such as Georgia’s Smart.

Whatever happens, the Bulldogs are going to feel an impact. It’s either going to be a tremor or an earthquake. Initially, you can be certain that Pruitt is coming after Sherrer, possibly as his defensive coordinator, and Rocker, the former d-line coach who took this season off after being dismissed by Smart. And there could be others.

Pruitt is going to know where the soft underbelly is at Georgia and at Alabama, if there is one. Same thing with Florida State. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to whether this will be great hire or an awful one. I just know it’s one that one that bears watching with great interest.

The post Former Georgia D-coordinator Jeremy Pruitt a high-risk hire for Tennessee appeared first on DawgNation.

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Georgia Sports News

  • ATLANTA — Georgia football quarterback Justin Fields has embraced his role and his going with the flow, working to develop into the player most everyone things he can be. Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart clarified Fields’ current role on Tuesday, and senior teammate Terry Godwin shared insights into the mindset of the No. 1-ranked dual-threat QB in the 2018 signing class. “ He’s taken on the second team role quickly, and I’m excited about the things he’s done,” Smart said at SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. “He gives us an element in our offense that we don’t have. Excited to see what he can do.” Smart said Georgia football has no plans to redshirt Fields —  which most had already assumed. The Bulldogs have only two quarterbacks on scholarship after Jacob Eason’s transfer to Washington in February. Bulldogs sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm has been observed in command of the team, both on the field and in the locker room. RELATED: NFL QB whisperer dishes on Jake Fromm running Georgia team Fields, just as importantly, is managing his situation in optimal fashion. “He’s going to come in and compete very similar to the way Jake Fromm came in and competed with Easton,” Smart said. “He’s coming in to compete and learn our system. He’s made the players around him better. He’s embraced the challenge of learning the offense, and he’s a very bright young man.” Indeed, Fields is smart enough to avoid falling victim to the hype train, according to Godwin. “He’s not really listening to all the noise,” Godwin said. “He’s out there making plays at practice, and just going as hard as he can and trying to prove a point.” Justin Fields highlights   The post Georgia freshman Justin Fields has Kirby Smart ‘excited to see what he can do’ appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATLANTA — To hear their teammates talk about them, Deangelo Gibbs and Natrez Patrick are full reinstated and set to play in Georgia’s first game this season. But Terry Godwin, Jonathan Ledbetter and Jonathan Ledbetter aren’t in charge. Kirby Smart is, and the Bulldogs’ head coach is not ready to discuss game availability. That four-person contingent was representing UGA as the Bulldogs’ took their turn at SEC Football Media Days on Tuesday. Before their turn at the podium in the College Football Hall of Fame, the players and coaches met with beat corps that covers the team on the sixth floor of The Omni Hotel, where they lodged in Atlanta Monday night. The players went first, meeting with reporters on the open-air pool deck, fittingly overlooking Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They were, of course, asked about the status of their respective teammates. Patrick, a starting inside linebacker, did not play in the Bulldogs’ last two games of last season after a marijuana-involved police encounter following the SEC Championship Game. Gibbs, former 5-star signee from Grayson, did not play in the Bulldogs’ last seven games of the season, withdrew from school and did not participate in spring drills. “Yes, sir, he’s back with the team,” said junior safety J.R. Reed, who also happens to be Gibbs’ first cousin. “And he can’t wait to play in a game like the rest of us.” “Natrez has everything going for him,” said senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, Patrick’s roommate their first two years at Georgia. “He is on the up-and-up now and headed in the right direction. I’m just proud of to see him doing that for himself. He’s working hard and doing the right things and he wants to continue to do the right things.” Smart, speaking to reporters in a suite down the hall a short time later, appreciated his players weighing in on the matter. And while he continues to confirm those players being reinstated as members of the team, he’s not ready to discuss player availability. “Their making these decision now? You put them in charge?” Smart said sarcastically when told his players inferred Gibbs and Patrick were fully reinstated. “I will validate that both of those guys are on the team. They’re on the team working with us. But you guys know that. They’re in there working hard and competing and doing a good job for us.” Asked if that meant they would be available for Georgia’s first game of the season, Smart said, “again, they’re on our team right now and that’s what they’re doing. You can ask them whether they’ll play in the first game, but they’re not the head coach and they’re not going to make that decision.” Mandatory disciplinary suspensions are unclear in both cases as charges against Patrick actually were dropped and the reasons behind Gibbs benching and withdrawal from school are unclear. Gibbs also underwent offseason surgery for a shoulder injury that also contributed to him being sidelined. Suffice it to say, the availability of either player significantly enhances Georgia’s defensive prospects this fall. Patrick is unquestionably one of the Bulldogs’ top 11 defensive players and, as a Mike/Mac inside linebacker plays a position of a great need for Georgia this fall. When on the field, the 6-foot-3, 242-pound senior from Atlanta, has been one of the Bulldogs’ most productive players. As it is, the three-year starter has participated in 30 of Georgia’s 41 games in his career, starting 18 of those. Patrick enters his senior season with 116 career tackles, two sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. He had a career-best total of 10 tackles against Tennessee in 2016. Gibbs was working out with the No. 1 defense at star, or nickelback, as an early enrollee last spring. He dressed for six of Georgia’s first eight games last season but did not record any stats. He did not suit up for the Bulldogs after the Florida game. Gibbs, a former 6-foot-1, 205-pound former Under Armour All-American, could be a contender to start at nickelback or any of the safety positions for the Bulldogs this fall. Gibbs has the ultimate mentor in his cousin, Reed. Reed was thought to have been invited to Georgia as a walkon from Tulsa in order to lure Gibbs, an Under Armour All-American, to sign with the Bulldogs. Instead, it has been Reed so far who has not only been a productive starter but has been designated a team leader and spokesman, as his presence at Media Days indicates. “That’s the reason I have a chip on my shoulder, from guys saying I was only brought in for (Gibbs’) recruitment,” Reed quipped. As for being designated a a player rep by his head coach, Reed said: “This is something I always wanted to check off my list and I’m just excited to be here,” said Reed, a preseason All-SEC candidate. “I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder for being passed up since I was little. But that just makes you play harder. If they keep missing on me, fine.” The post Georgia’s Kirby Smart weighs in on availability of Natrez Patrick, Deangelo Gibbs appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Georgia coach Kirby Smart offered some clarity on how freshman quarterback Justin Fields will be used this season. Speaking at SEC Media Days on Tuesday morning in Atlanta, Smart told reporters that it’s not in Georgia’s plans to redshirt Fields this year. Smart added that Jake Fromm will be the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback but that Fields will be expected to be prepared in a similar way that Fromm was in 2017 when Fromm took over for the injured Jacob Eason. Check out Smart’s comments below, as relayed by The Telegraph’s Jason Butt and Times-Union Media’s Garry Smits: Kirby Smart was asked this morning on the chance Justin Fields will redshirt. Smart said, 'That's not in our plans.' — Jason Butt (@JasonHButt) July 17, 2018 @FootballUGA coach Kirby Smart said freshman QB Justin Fields will be groomed to play. Jake Fromm is still the starter but he wants Fields ready like Fromm was last year when Jake Eason was hurt. — Garry Smits (@gsmitter) July 17, 2018 Fields, formerly a 5-star prospect from Kennesaw, Ga., represented a large recruiting victory for Smart’s staff after the talented player signed with Georgia as a member of the Bulldogs’ heralded Class of 2018. The 247Sports composite ranked Fields as the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback for his class. He enrolled at Georgia in January and participated in spring drills. Fromm, meanwhile, helped guide Georgia to an SEC title, a Rose Bowl victory and an appearance in the National Championship Game last season. He finished the 2017 campaign with 2,615 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Georgia opens the 2018 season against Austin Peay on Sept. 1. The post Kirby Smart: Not in Georgia’s plans to redshirt QB Justin Fields appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATLANTA — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart is ready to welcome Demetris Robertson home, but getting the Cal transfer on the field for the Bulldogs this season is another matter. “I’m excited about Demetris, I think he’s a really competitive kid that I’ve known since his ninth grade year, I recruited him a long time,” Smart said Tuesday at the Omni Hotel. “I really believe when you recruit a kid, especially the time I spent (coaching) at Alabama, going to Savannah, getting to know him in the ninth and 10th grade, those things pay off, treating people the right way and having a good relationship with them.” Coming Home Robertson announced Saturday he would be returning to his home state of Georgia to play receiver for the SEC Champions. According to multiple reports, Robertson’s decision to return to the Peach State relates to a family illness. RELATED: DawgNation breaking news on Demetris Robertson Robertson was granted a medical redshirt last season after appearing in only two games, but he would need an NCAA waiver to be eligible to play this season. “I don’t know much about the waiver, that’s out of my department, that will be in the NCAA’s hands,” Smart said. “That’s outside of my control, and it’s not something we’re really concerned with right now. We’re preparing with the guys that are going to be eligible to play and can play.” Recruiting Stars It was yet another big recruiting win for Smart, who landed the No. 1 signing class in 2018. Robertson had announced on June 21 his decision to transfer out of Cal, triggering immediate speculation that Georgia and Alabama would be in a head-to-head battle for his talents. Robertson had 57 catches for 837 yards and seven touchdowns during his two seasons with Cal, but 50 of those catches and 767 yards came his freshman season. Last season, Robertson had only seven catches for 70 yards and two runs for 40 yards in the first two games before undergoing surgery for a lower body injury. Many expected Roberston to choose Georgia coming out of Savannah Christian Prep in 2016, when he was a 5-star prep prospect ranked as the No. 1 receiver in the nation according to the 247Sports composite. A U.S. Army All-American, Robertson was reportedly to choose between Georgia, Notre Dame and Alabama according to 247Sports. The post Georgia football coach Kirby Smart welcomes Demetris Robertson home, but waiver in question appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Welcome to  Good Day, UGA, your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes. Check us out every weekday morning for everything you need to know about Georgia football, recruiting, basketball and more. Georgia Football 2018 Opponent Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks I have spoken with an awful lot of Georgia fans this offseason who are worried about the week two trip to Columbia to face South Carolina. It’s understandable. With the Dawgs opening the season against overmatched and outgunned Austin Peay, the Sept. 8 game against the Gamecocks is the first big game of the years, so it’s at the front of a lot of minds as the season looms. An away game against an SEC East foe in the second weak of the season — which typically means South Carolina — is always something to fret over in the long days of the offseason. And by all accounts, Will Muschamp has made tremendous strides with the Gamecocks in his first two seasons. (Not as much as Kirby Smart, but I digress.) By my and most pundits figuring, South Carolina is the greatest threat to Georgia in the East. But are Georgia fans right to be as worried about this game as they are? Talk to anyone who knows anything and they’ll tell you the Gamecocks will be one of the most dangerous opponents on Georgia’s 2018 schedule. I don’t necessarily think that’s incorrect, I just think “most dangerous” has to be quantified relative to how dangerous other opponents are. And on a weak Georgia schedule, there isn’t a whole lot of danger. I think a lot of fans have overinflated the danger South Carolina poses because, frankly, there aren’t a ton of other opponents to worry about. Offense One thing you can always count on from Muschamp is turnover at offensive coordinator. Bryan McClendon will head the South Carolina offense this year, making him Muschamp’s fourth offensive coordinator in seven years as a head coach. And the change was warranted. South Carolina’s stodgy attack finished 12th in the SEC in scoring and 88th nationally in offensive S&P+. McClendon planning on going up-tempo to bring the excitement back to the offense, and he’s got a few weapons to do it with. I’m not totally sold on junior QB Jake Bentley — who passed for 2,1794 yards, 18 TDs and 12 INTs last season — but he has the potential to break down any defense on days he’s clicking. Aiding Bentley in his attempt to turn a corner is returning WR Deebo Samuel, who had 474 all-purpose yards and 6 TDs in 11 quarters before missing the final 10 games with a broken leg. Samuel’s return alone should make the offense significantly more dangerous. Defense Muschamp’s calling card has always been and will always be defense, but South Carolina still has a lot to improve upon on that side of the ball. The Gamecocks returns six starters and a gaggle of strong role players from a defense that was generally average on a play-to-play basis but excelled at taking the ball away, recovering 14 fumbles and snagging 14 interceptions as a team. Their greatest weakness was the pass rush. The Gamecocks finished 11th in the league with 26.0 sacks to their name last season. To be an elite SEC defense, you simply have to get to the quarterback more often. The player to watch for the Gamecock defense is DT Javon Kinlaw. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound JuCo transfer finished last season with 20 tackles working in backup duty for South Carolina, and he appears poised for a breakout campaign. He has the kind of size Muschamp needs in the middle of his defense to draw attention from offensive linemen and open lanes for other rushers. Kinlaw could single-handedly create more opportunities for this defense if he lives up to his hype. What to expect on Sept. 8 I made it a point to say Georgia fans shouldn’t be as worried about South Carolina as many I’ve spoken with are, but that’s not to say don’t worry about the Gamecocks at all. It’s an early season game and Georgia will be working out some kinks and breaking in a lot of new names in front of a hostile crowd at Williams-Brice. But there’s a really good reason the Dawgs are favored over South Carolina by two touchdowns: They’re better. FPI Projection: Georgia has a 79.1 percent chance of winning Opponent Previews: Austin Peay MORE: Want this roundup in your inbox every morning?  Sign up here! 4-star in-state OT commits to Georgia Georgia football added its 12th commitment to its recruiting class of 2019 with a pledge from Brunswick, Ga. 4-star OT Warren McClendon Jr. on Monday. McClendon is the eighth player from the state of Georgia and second offensive lineman Georgia has landed in this class. Along with fellow class of 2019 players Zion Logue and Cal transfer Demetris Robertson, McClendon is the third player to sign on to be a Bulldog since Saturday. “First, I would like to thank God for blessing me with the opportunity to play on the next level,”  McClendon wrote in a tweet. “I would like to thank my parents for supporting me during the recruiting process. Also, I would like to thank all my coaches and teammates. With that being said I’m 100% committed to … THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA.” ❗️C O M M I T T E D❗️ pic.twitter.com/B1KN6UUa40 — Warren McClendon Jr (@wcmcclendonjr) July 16, 2018 ICYMI: SEC Media Days Here’s a roundup of DawgNation coverage from the first day of SEC Media Days. Stay tuned for plenty more as Kirby Smart takes the podium in Atlanta Tuesday at 9 a.m. SEC Football Media Days not going to be in Atlanta long Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher at SEC Media Days: ‘timetable is now’ Kentucky’s Mark Stoops sees Georgia as SEC measuring stick Dawgs on Twitter ICYMI: We took an inside look at the on-going construction inside Sanford Stadium, which will be ready for the @FootballUGA season-opener on September 1! #GoDawgs #ATD pic.twitter.com/eGNLavq2Hp — Bulldogs Game Day (@WSBbulldogs) July 16, 2018 One week from today is the @UGAAthletics SEC Network takeover! Tune in to @SECNetwork at 10:00am on the 23rd and re-live our big win over Mizzou last season! #GoDawgs | #CommitToTheG pic.twitter.com/MekphjXf8y — Georgia Basketball (@UGA_WBB) July 16, 2018 Good dog There’s only one option today. Another Great day to be a Dawg!! #yessirrrr #GoDawgs pic.twitter.com/AdyuZcNqXl — Coach Sam Pittman (@CoachSamPittman) July 16, 2018 Miss a previous edition of Good Day, UGA? Get caught up  here . The post Georgia Football 2018 Opponent Preview: How worried should Georgia be about South Carolina? appeared first on DawgNation.