Is Jeremy Pruitt the Gus Malzahn of Defense?
By Jacob Shoor
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If Jeremy Pruitt is the Gus Malzahn of the defensive side of the ball, Florida State will be deep in the hunt for a national title by 2014.
New Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has delivered already. He has already convinced high school All-American, four-star recruit, defensive end DeMarcus Walker of Jacksonville, FL to flip from being a commitment to Alabama to being the first star recruit reeled in by Pruitt for the Seminoles.
The Crimson Tide have won three of four national championships and should be the consensus #1 ranked team for 2013 with good prospects to become the first team to win three consecutive national titles. Kirby Smart has shown no signs he is interested in moving on from being the defensive coordinator of one of the greatest dynasties in college football history to trying his hand at being the head coach somewhere else. Those facts make the switch engineered by Pruitt something beyond amazing. Seminoles fans hope it is a harbinger of a return to full glory.
If Pruitt is the Gus Malzahn of the defensive side of the ball, Florida State will be deep in the hunt for a national title by 2014.
One of the most amazing stories of football coaching the previous decade is the pattern given life when Arkansas fans basically forced Houston Nutt, whose team was floundering, to hire AR high school coach Gus Malzahn as his offensive coordinator. The consensus feeling was that a high school coach made a college coordinator would be a failure even in the Sunbelt. The very thought of such a move into the SEC was a sick joke.
But as we all now know, Malzahn was more than ready for the task. Every head coach who has had Malzahn as his OC has won a higher percentage of his games than he won without Malzahn as OC, with Gene Chizek as the most obvious example. Malzahn made every head coach he served better, and he did it as soon as he left the high school ranks for the SEC.
Houston Nutt's only contribution of merit to college football was an accident: he showed athletics directors and head coaches that they might need to hire a great high school coach in order to reach for the stars successfully.
The process did not actually begin with Malzahn, though making a high school coach a coordinator was shocking. Three years before Nutt hired Malzahn, Texas Tech hired as its running backs coach legendary Texas high school coach Art Briles. Briles went on to revive a moribund Houston program and then to resuscitate an even more dead Baylor program. Another Lone Star high school coach, Chad Morris, spent time with Malzahn and parlayed that into jumping from Friday night lights to offensive coordinator at Tulsa, where he revived the Golden Hurricanes's offense, which had underachieved terribly in the one year since Malzahn had left the job to be Auburn's OC. Morris is now the brilliantly successful OC at Clemson. The current head coach at Tulsa is Bill Blankenship, who became a legend in Oklahoma high school coaching and sat out a year to be able to join the Tulsa staff as a position coach. Blankenship is 8-5 and 11-3 with one CUSA title in his two seasons as head coach after four successful years as a position coach. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze was a legendary Tennessee high school coach in girl's basketball as well as football before getting a chance to be head coach of a losing NAIA team, which he immediately made a winner. In his only year as an offensive coordinator, Freeze produced such amazing results that he replaced the head coach. In his one year as Arkansas State head coach, Freeze fielded the best team in school history.
We have seen such results, that would not have been accepted as sufficiently believable for fiction in an earlier time, because beginning in the 1990s college football staffs seemed to add several younger coaches who either knew little about fundamentals or simply could not instill them. Those coaches became, in effect, tenured within the system, passed from one program to another. They often were seen as 'players' coaches, able to help reel in recruits and be liked by those directly under their charge. But they could not produce fundamentally sound players, and when promoted to a coordinator position, they could not win with game plans and adjustments made during games. They lacked too much mentally to be successful unless they were blessed with considerably more talent than their foes.
Hard-working, smart, innovative, fundamentals-instilling high school coaches have helped improve college football coaching. And almost 100% of it has come on the offensive side of the ball.
Is Pruitt, a former DC at Alabama's Hoover High with only three years as secondary coach in Tuscaloosa, the beginning of a trend on the defensive side that will balance the Malzahn effect? If he is that good that as coordinator, Seminoles fans will see another great run in Tallahassee that will result in playing for the national championship.