Let’s be honest Georgia fans. Georgia’s football program isn’t where it should be. Mark Richt has taken us to the next level, but we are still one step behind the ‘elites’ of college football. Yes, we have finished in the top 10, 7 times in the Richt era. Yes, we have winning records against all our rivals with the exception of Florida. And yes, we reel in top 10 recruiting classes and are consistently in the top 25 and national title conversation. But, we are missing the one thing that has the ability to validate all this success for years to come. Georgia is missing the ultimate prize, a national championship. Auburn has one, Florida has two, LSU has three, and Alabama has too many to count in this time period. Georgia fans on the other hand all ask the same question, "Where’s ours?" Well my fellow Georgia fans, I want you to think back to January 14, 2014. That’s the day the Georgia football program turned around. That’s the day Mark Richt hired Jeremy Pruitt. There has been a different, ‘special’ feeling encompassing the football program since that day, something I like to call "The Pruitt Effect".
Jeremy Pruitt was the most important hire of Mark Richt’s career. Pruitt had just molded the number 1 defense in the country at FSU, and had also coached the Defensive Backs on Nick Saban’s Alabama staff the year before. Both those teams won national championships and both defenses were great. Pruitt was one of the hottest defensive names in College football and somehow, someway Georgia got him. Now, Pruitt hasn’t been at Georgia very long (only 16 months), but he has made quite the impact.
The first time Jeremey Pruitt met the players at Georgia he was welcomed with a standing ovation. The players showed him respect from the very start, and that is something that he not only demands, but has earned. Pruitt is one of many disciples of the Nick Saban coaching tree, and his coaching style and approach resembles "St.Nick" in many ways. He is all business and he expects the same from his players at all times during practice, film sessions, workouts, etc. And if you won’t do it his way, you’ll be hitting the highway. (Shaq Wiggins and Sheldon Dawson learned that the hard way) This change in attitude and culture was evident in UGA’s defensive play on the field last year as well. The defense was very young and probably not as talented they had been in the past, but they were organized, disciplined and gave it their all. All traits that had been lacking from the defense over the past couple seasons. Now, entering his second season, Pruitt’s defense looks to be scary good. It is evident that all the current players have ‘bought in’, and the culture on the Georgia defense has drastically changed.
This culture change hasn’t just been confined to the defense, but has spread rampantly throughout the program as well. Mark Richt definitely appears to have welcomed it with open arms. Pruitt has experienced and seen what it takes to win the national championship, and I think Richt realizes he knows what it takes to get there. It appears as if Pruitt has become Richt’s main advisor and right hand man so-to-speak. Now I’m not saying Pruitt is running the show, but when he speaks Richt listens.
Culture is very important to any organization’s success, but what defines culture is people. There has been a major overhaul of UGA’s football staff over the past couple of seasons, and it’s not by coincidence. Recently, Alabama and Nick Saban have been the undisputed gold standard of success in college football due to their winning culture. Well, Jeremy Pruitt worked on Saban’s staff at Alabama and knows first-hand what kind of people it takes create this winning culture. As a result, Mark Richt has turned to Pruitt in hopes of trying to simulate Alabama’s culture as closely as possible and bring the right people to UGA’s staff.
Recruiting is essential to a program’s success as well, and it appears that shortly after arriving Pruitt realized that Georgia’s recruiting staff just wasn’t up to par. The cleansing began with the resignation of Daryl Jones, director of On-Campus recruiting, and the hiring of Ronnie Letson, who worked at Alabama with Pruitt, as the Director of Player Personnel. They also hired Sam Petitto as associate director of player personnel, who coincidentally was also a former member of the Alabama staff as a defensive intern in 2008. Obviously, some of the people already in place weren’t getting the job done, and I believe Pruitt was instrumental in persuading Richt that some changes needed to be made.
This new staff has implemented a completely new recruiting strategy and philosophy that has allowed Georgia to elevate its recruiting efforts. Two main pieces of evidence, which demonstrate this new philosophy, are our newfound creativity and aggressiveness. Creativity in recruiting is huge because it allows one program to separate or distinguish itself from all the others and by sending out hand drawn portraits, photoshoped pictures, etc. Georgia is starting to stand out. Aggressiveness and persistence is essential as well, and Georgia has appeared to lack in that category over the years. One key piece of evidence showing this is the number of scholarship offers Georgia has sent out for the 2015, 2016, and 2017 classes. We have sent out significantly more offers than in previous years. Ranking in the top fourth of the SEC in scholarships offered as opposed to the bottom fourth, where we have been for a while. We aren’t going all out for our top recruit at each position, and scrambling to find someone else if he spurns us anymore. Instead we are going after multiple recruits for one position and having options if our number one choice doesn’t work out. Alabama has been using this tactic for years, and it’s worked pretty well for them.
Pruitt is a phenomenal recruiter as well. Mecole Hardman, a top 100 recruit for 2016 according to rivals, recently said this regarding Pruitt, "He doesn't sugarcoat anything. He's always going to tell you how it is. That's what you need out of a coach, and that's what I like out of a coach." Most recruits share these same sentiments and it has shown. Georgia’s 2015 defensive recruiting class consisted of an astounding 10 ESPN 300 recruits including the number 1 player in the country in Trenton Thompson. Overall, Pruitt has made recruiting a major emphasis once again at UGA and the renewed focus appears to be paying dividends.
Georgia’s Strength & Conditioning staff was the next victim. At the presumed urging of Pruitt it appears as if Coach Tereshinski, a lifelong bulldog and longtime member of the staff, was forced into retirement, and Alabama’s assistant strength & Conditioning Coach Mark Hocke was hired as the replacement. Hocke was also on the staff at Bama when Pruitt coached there. (Coached at Alabama, has ties to Pruitt….notice a trend)It appears as if the change was well overdue as current players have raved about how much better shape they are in after offseason workouts, as opposed to years past. Jeb Blazevich even admitted he was playing with dead legs during games last season, which is not a good sign. Even Richt said that they did more running this offseason than they ever have since he’s been at UGA. One can only conclude that this new strength & conditioning program will translate to increased on field success.
Pruitt has even made his presence felt on the offensive side of the ball. I believe that it was primarily Richt’s decision to hire Brian Schottenheimer based off of their similar offensive philosophies, but Richt did state in an interview shortly after the hire that he had gotten Schotty’s name from Pruitt, who was present when Schottenheimer interviewed for Alabama’s OC job a couple of years ago. Rob Sale, Georgia’s new offensive line coach, also coached at Alabama as a GA and was there at the same time as Pruitt. It has also been speculated that Tony Ball, UGA’s long-time WR coach, was forced out by Richt at Pruitt’s urging because of his inability to recruit, which was evident the last couple weeks leading up to signing day this year when UGA lost two of its top WR commits. (Darius Slayton and Van Jefferson) Thomas Brown was then hired to replace the coaching spot vacated by Ball. Thomas Brown was a slam dunk hire, and many people think that Pruitt had nothing to do with it. In the words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast." Although, Brown had played at UGA under Richt, coached as a GA under Richt and had proven himself as a capable recruiter and coach at Wisconsin, he was not the first choice. Believe it or not, Richt, in my opinion at Pruitt’s urging, had offered the job to Stanford’s Lance Taylor, who coached on Alabama’s staff as a GA while Pruitt was there, before allowing Brown to seize the opportunity.
There’s one last thing that Pruitt has noticed Alabama and all the other elite programs in the SEC have that Georgia doesn’t. There isn’t an indoor practice facility. Georgia is the only school in the SEC without one or at least plans to build one. Well, Pruitt has been very vocal about that issue as well and it appears as if plans are finally in the works to solve the last piece to the puzzle.
Georgia’s football program has been so close for so long. It has had all the pieces to the puzzle, but for some reason has never been able to put them together just right. Well, Jeremy Pruitt has helped us finally put them together. The Lamborghini (Georgia’s football program) that has been going 150 MPH for so long is finally starting to accelerate and catch up with the big boys at 200 MPH. It might not be this season, but if we don’t let off the accelerator, Georgia will win that ever-so- elusive national championship. It’s all a result of "The Pruitt Effect."