Pruitt a critical hire for Richt

sports@macon.comJanuary 14, 2014 

The news that Todd Grantham was leaving for Louisville could not have been more convenient for Mark Richt and the Georgia football program. Grantham didn’t really seem to want to be in Athens, and most fans didn’t really care if he walked out of the Butts-Mehre front door and never returned.

And to replace the beleaguered Grantham with the defensive coach who just helped lead a team to the national championship had to be like a dream come true.

Why exactly did Jeremy Pruitt leave Florida State for Georgia? Well, he got more money and for some reason didn’t care that Florida State wanted to match Georgia’s offer. His college roommate is Georgia’s offensive line coach Will Friend. It’s a return to the SEC. And Pruitt probably knows he has a challenge ahead of him if he saw any Georgia game this past season.

But still, to grab a coach who just won the national title? That’s quite a coup for Richt, who desperately needs this hire to be a home run, unlike the Grantham hire that was like a Dan Uggla fly ball that stalled on the warning track.

Sure, Kirby Smart, a former player at Georgia and Alabama’s defensive boss, would have been the perfect hire. Who knows if it was possible or how close that was, but for some reason, getting Smart back in Athens just hasn’t worked out.

So Richt turned to Pruitt, who worked with Smart and the grand poo-bah of college coaching Nick Saban at Alabama before taking control of Florida State’s defense for its magical season.

Pruitt seems to have everything Georgia needs. He’s a terrific recruiter, and let’s be honest, after Rodney Garner bolted for Auburn last year, the Bulldogs need a closer who can get elite talent. He’s a secondary coach, and hopefully for Georgia, that means he’ll be able to tell defensive backs small things -- like to bat the ball down in a fourth-and-18 situation the next time that happens.

The Georgia secondary needs major help. There is talent there, but the players need to develop. That was the knock on Grantham. Where was the improvement from week one to the bowl game? It was hard to pinpoint, and even at that, it wasn’t significant enough to make anyone think the defense had gotten better.

The 2014 Georgia defense will be better. It can’t get much worse, but a new voice and a new direction should produce better results. Pruitt is going to be able to show his new players three championship rings, and if that doesn’t get their attention, nothing will.

The funny thing is this hire puts even more pressure on Richt and his offense. If the Georgia defense does get better under Pruitt’s direction, the offense will have to continue to put up a lot of points.

Can that happen with a new quarterback, two new offensive linemen and a slew of injured skill players coming back? Well, it won’t be a given as it has been the past few years with veteran quarterback Aaron Murray being able to save the day.

But there is little doubt the defense is in much better hands. Grantham’s act didn’t work in Athens, for whatever reason. Now Pruitt will be able to step in and perhaps make Damian Swann productive again or get the best out of young players like Brendan Langley and Josh Harvey-Clemons.

Pruitt helped do it in Tuscaloosa, and he did it in Tallahassee, and that’s enough to give most Georgia fans hope that he can work his magic in Athens. Richt is counting on him. It could be his most critical hire, as he continues to try and find the right coach to make Georgia’s defense significant again.

If Pruitt can’t do it, maybe it’s just not possible. He has too good of a track record to not make a difference.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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