Georgia will break in a totally new defensive staff when the Bulldogs open spring practice in a couple of weeks. Everybody knows that.
But did you know this? It will be the first time in a half-century — that’s right, 50 years — that Georgia has had no staff carryover on defense.
The last time that happened was the spring of 1964, before Vince Dooley’s first season and after he came from Auburn and brought Erk Russell with him as defensive coordinator. Since then, there has been at least one coach to carry over every time the Bulldogs had a regime change or changed defensive coordinators. Rodney Garner filled that role the past couple of times.
The point is, a historic transition is taking place when spring practice commences for Georgia on March 18.
“Sometimes change is a good thing,” Dooley said when informed of the unusual circumstance.
It certainly couldn’t get much worse. The Bulldogs were historically bad on defense last season.
Under former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the Bulldogs surrendered 377 points — or 29 points per game — which both are the worst marks in school history. Georgia’s total of 4,882 yards allowed is the most ever surrendered, and the 375.5 yards allowed per game is the worst since the 1994 team yielded 394.1.
Ironically, that wasn’t the reason for the mass exodus by the previous staff. With the exception of secondary coach Scott Lakatos, coach Mark Richt was going to allow Grantham and rest of his staff to remain. But Grantham bolted for a $150,000-a-year raise and five-year guarantee from Bobby Petrino at Louisville. Uncertain of their own futures, the rest of the assistants followed suit.
That opened the door for Richt to hire Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt comes to Georgia from Florida State, where he was the mastermind of the nation’s top-ranked defense for the BCS champions. Pruitt did not bring any assistants with him from Tallahassee, so the Bulldogs brought in three other assistants: inside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler, strongside linebackers/nickel-backs coach Kevin Sherrer and defensive line/weakside linebackers coach Tracy Rocker. Pruitt will coach the secondary.
That staff will inherit nine returning starters from last season’s unit. It would have been 10, but safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was dismissed for multiple violations of team rules. But that’s not to say the depth chart will look the same.
“Everybody’s got a clean slate,” Pruitt said. “To me, that’s the way it will be every spring. It’s not about what you did last year. It’s about what you’re going to do going forward. I’d say every job is open. I’m not really concerned about what happened in the past from this point on.”
Those old Dogs will have to learn some new tricks as well. Pruitt runs a similar defense to Grantham’s 3-4, but much of the terminology is different, as is the breakdown of position coaches. Also, Ekeler and tight end John Lilly have accepted new roles as co-special teams coordinators, and the special-team coaching distribution has changed. So both the players and coaches will go through a transition period.
“Philosophically we’re going to change a little bit here and there,” Richt said.
Georgia benefited from quarterback Hutson Mason starting the last two games of the season because of Aaron Murray’s knee injury. But as evidenced in the Gator Bowl loss, there are kinks to be ironed out. And there are jobs to be won on offense as well.
Three starting jobs are open on the line — left tackle, left guard and right guard — and the Bulldogs must replace All-SEC tight end Arthur Lynch. Jay Rome is Lynch’s heir apparent, but is recovering from offseason foot surgery. That leaves only redshirt freshman Jordan Davis and a few walk-ons to take reps until freshman signees Jeb Blazevich and Hunter Atkinson arrive this summer.
Most important, Georgia didn’t experience any player turnover as a result of the coaching changes.
“It’s nice to know that we’re at that type of university where guys believe that we’re going to bring in great coaches, and they want to be at Georgia because that’s just where they want to be — period,” Richt said.