ATHENS — Mark Richt walked into the team meeting room at the Butts-Mehre building Wednesday, scanned the crammed line of television cameras, photographers and media members filling several rows of seats in the room and said, “Wow. Must be a big day here.”
The fact the hiring of an assistant football coach could draw this kind of attention was kind of, yes, amusing. But the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt from national champion Florida State is kind of a big deal for defensively challenged Georgia. He didn’t help the Bulldogs win a game at his introduction but his words struck the right chord.
As the late, great Furman Bisher once responded when asked what he planned to write, here are some “general observations on the day’s events”:
1. What’s that? Early smack talk?
Pruitt never really answered why a coordinator would leave a national title team after one season (other than the obvious: more money). But he did say, “There’s no doubt this is the best conference in the country and I feel the University of Georgia is the best school in the conference. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t think that.”
Alabama on line two.
More Pruitt: “I feel like this is a championship staff. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t believe in coach Richt and what he stands for and where this program is going.”
He’ll do well on the booster banquet circuit.
2. It ain’t rocket science.
Georgia has talent. Anybody who believes the Bulldogs haven’t won a national title or enough SEC championships because it doesn’t have enough great players just isn’t paying attention. The problem is too often players are just doing the wrong things.
Pruitt brought this home when he was asked what the key was to coaching a successful secondary: “You have to have great eyes and the discipline to know where your eyes should be. If you’re running a 4.4 (40-yard dash) and you’re running in the wrong direction, you’re getting a long way from where you’re supposed to be in a hurry.”
The remarkable thing is he said that BEFORE looking at any Georgia game tape.
More: “A lot of people try to make football harder than what it is. It’s the details. It’s blocking. It’s tackling. It’s the fundamentals. It’s getting off blocks. To create turnovers, you have to practice creating turnovers. For interceptions, catch the ball. If the ball’s on the ground you have to secure it.”
How refreshing for a coach to not act like the smartest guy in the room.
3. Todd who?
Todd Grantham was in Athens for four years. I’m not saying anybody hated him but players seem to have quickly recovered from his departure. They broke out in applause when Pruitt walked into the room to address them Tuesday. They gave him another ovation after he spoke. Richt: “I never saw that in 30-some years of coaching. It doesn’t mean anything other than I think we got their attention and they’re excited.”
4. No more entitlement.
If you’ve ever had a sense that some Georgia players were starting because of how they’re supposed to play rather than how good they actually are, that’s about to end. Richt said Pruitt “told players, ‘I’m not going to give you what you want. I‘m going to give you what you earn.’ I think that resonated with a lot of them.”
5. And finally: Perspective people.
For too long, some people have viewed Richt’s spirituality and perspective on life as coaching weaknesses, as if those traits are the reasons he hasn’t won a national title. OK, so try this:
Pruitt spent several years in public education. He knows coaching is about far more than football. “I was at an elementary school, (kindergarten) through third grade, as a PE teacher. When you see kids and you don’t know where they lay their head at night and where they got their last meal, you realize there are a lot more important things than football.”
Richt soon interrupted him and cracked: “Some Georgia fans hate to hear that. But most of them have a grip on that.”
The early reviews are positive. The real reviews begin next fall.