Beat writer Q&A: David Hale on Jeremy Pruitt

semerson@macon.comJanuary 16, 2014 

On paper Jeremy Pruitt is a brilliant hire for the Georgia football team. But he's also only been a college assistant for four years, and a coordinator for one year. David Hale of ESPN.com covered that year at Florida State, and he also used to cover Georgia - my predecessor, in case anybody didn't know - so I thought I'd pick David's brain on the subject.

Thanks to David for taking the time to answer these questions, and I think you'll find this informative and insightful. (As with anything David writes.)

1. Obviously it caught a lot of people off guard that Georgia was able to lure away Florida State's defensive coordinator. What's your sense on how and why this went down?

Hale: There are plenty of people at FSU still scratching their heads. It's not entirely unprecedented. Coordinators have left national title teams before, but usually it's not for a lateral move. UGA obviously offered a hefty raise, but the reports I've gotten suggest FSU would've matched -- or at least come close. The decision sounds like it was personal for Pruitt, who obviously has a good rapport with Will Friend and may have simply been looking for a change of scenery. As a former Athens resident, I can't argue with his choice of locales.

2. Pruitt has obviously had the benefit of coaching some very good players over the past four years, including three at Alabama as the secondary coach. How much of the numbers at Florida State this past year were about that talent, and how much was about Pruitt's coaching?

Hale: A lot was about FSU's talent. This was a defense that ranked in the top six in total and scoring defense in each of the two seasons before Pruitt arrived. But that's not to say he didn't make a huge impact. FSU lost seven starters off its 2012 defense, including all four on the D line. They had plenty of talent returning (including Timmy Jernigan and Mario Edwards Jr., both likely future first-rounders, on the defensive line) but it was a unit in transition. Pruitt adapted the scheme to fit FSU's strengths. He's a guy who is willing to work with the personnel he's given and has a knack for getting the most out of them.

3. What did Pruitt do schematically at FSU, in terms of how often he used the 3-4, then switched to different alignments, mixing things up, etc.?

Hale: With so much talent leaving on the D line, Pruitt moved from a 4-3 scheme to more of a 3-3-5. FSU's secondary was exceptional, and he used it as a weapon with a lot of safety and corner blitzes to make up for the lack of a strong pass rush up front, and he called a far more aggressive game plan, significantly upping FSU's takeaway numbers. There were some early struggles -- particularly against the run -- but he addressed those as the year went along. He moved LB Christian Jones up from the MLB spot to more of a defensive end (sometimes lining up with his hand in the dirt, but almost always at the line of scrimmage) and really helped to seal the edge on outside runs. It helped that he had Jernigan, who was as good up the middle as anyone in the country, but he also really developed guys like Terrance Smith and Jalen Ramsey who hadn't played much at the college level before, but fit well into new roles in Pruitt's scheme.

4. What kind of guy is Pruitt like with his players, in terms of his interactions, motivational techniques, etc.?

Hale: Players seemed to like him. He came in and showed them a ton of tape on what Alabama had done, and that was a good inspiration for the players to buy in early. With another national title under his belt at FSU, I expect it'll be an even easier sales pitch at Georgia. He's incredibly detail-oriented and demanding (a hallmark of Saban proteges), and that showed up on the field. He's not the loudest guy (Fisher is a yeller, Pruitt was more laid back) but he'll make players do drills again and again until they get it right. Players also raved about his preparation. He lived in his office and the level of detail to film breakdown and game planning was remarkable, according to numerous players I talked to.

5. In his one year, what kind of reputation did Pruitt gain off the field, whether it was recruiting, (limited) media appearances, and so forth?

Hale: Fisher doesn't let his assistants talk to the media, so Pruitt's personality was tougher to gauge. But he's a former defensive coordinator at Hoover High in Alabama, and his dad has been coaching high school football for decades. He's a guy who knows how to relate to high school kids, and he has an exceptional rapport with high school coaches. That's a big deal on the recruiting trail, and it showed up quickly at FSU. He helped land Ramsey, Nate Andrews and Demarcus Walker all in the final six weeks leading up to signing day last year. He's a guy who can go toe-to-toe with Auburn and Alabama for top recruits in that area.

6. Finally - I know you only covered Grantham during one round of spring practice, but based off that and what you followed of him the past four years, to what extent do you think things are about to change around Athens?

Hale: I think both coaches have a really good grasp on the Xs and Os, but Grantham always struck me as more of an NFL guy coaching in college. Pruitt is sort of the opposite. He's more of a high school coach at the college level -- which is a good thing, as guys like Gus Malzahn, Chad Morris and Hugh Freeze have shown. Pruitt knows his stuff, as you'd expect anyone who came up under Saban would, and he's the type of guy who works incredibly hard to get ahead. I think the real question is how he'll handle building a defense from scratch -- something he really didn't need to do at Alabama or FSU. There's every reason to believe he can, and I actually wouldn't be surprised if the chance to try to do it was a big reason he liked the idea of moving to UGA.

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