Kirby Smart’s Georgia team is drawing comparisons to Nick Saban’s Alabama team, and that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Smart spent an entire decade working for Saban, learning from one of the best defensive minds in the game and one of the best coaches the college game has seen.
Smart is the latest of Saban’s former assistants to enjoy success as a head coach. Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, the Dallas Cowboys’ Jason Garrett, Florida’s Jim McElwain and the Atlanta Falcons’ Dan Quinn are among the long list of coaches who were once Saban assistants.
After spending three years as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin left Tuscaloosa at the end of last season to become Florida Atlantic’s coach. His departure came a year after Smart left for Georgia. With a number of jobs potentially opening in the coming months, Tide defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt could become the third Saban coordinator to become a head coach in as many years.
There are several reasons.
1. Proven commodity as a coordinator
Alabama entered this week ranked fifth in total defense and fourth in scoring defense nationally. That defense had just four returning starters from a unit that last season led the country in scoring defense – allowing opponents just 13 points per game – and ranked second in total defense.
After losing so much of its front seven to the NFL, the Tide hasn’t been able to get after the quarterback in the same way as it usually does but it still is one of the best defenses in the country.
It is familiar territory for Pruitt, 43, who is in his second season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator.
Pruitt’s first season as a college coordinator was in 2013, when Jimbo Fisher hired the then-Alabama secondary coach away from Tuscaloosa. That season, Florida State returned just four starters from a Mark Stoops-led defense that was second in total defense and sixth in scoring defense. But Pruitt’s group ranked first in scoring defense and third in total defense en route to a 14-0 national championship season. The first-year coordinator changed the Seminoles’ defensive scheme, bringing far more blitzes and putting players in positions to make big plays – something they hadn’t done well under Stoops.
FSU ranked second nationally in turnovers forced (35) in 2013, up from 66th in 2012 (21).
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