Dec. 20, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Like he does with his players every day at practice, Jimbo Fisher put new Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt through the ringer when he was in town for his interview last week.
Just like FSU's players are expected to have an answer for every conceivable situation that Fisher throws at them on the field and in the film room, the same was expected of Pruitt, the 38-year-old defensive secondary coach at Alabama.
If he were to join Fisher's staff as Mark Stoops' replacement, how would he handle this in-game situation and that in-game situation? What would he do against this offensive formation? What about this 4th-and-1 situation?
This is happening, go to the whiteboard and draw up your defensive play. Show me you can handle any and every situation -- there are no excuses. Now this one, now that one.
"It's an extensive breakdown of knowledge of what to do and how to do it and different ways to do it," Fisher said Thursday of the interview process.
Despite a longtime relationship with Fisher that extends back to the days when Pruitt was the defensive coordinator at Alabama prep-power Hoover High School and his new boss was the offensive coordinator at LSU out on the recruiting trail, the in-office strategy test was the ultimate sticking point in the hiring process.
Fisher knew Pruitt could coach; he'd seen the way he worked with the kids at Hoover and the way he helped -- and continues to help -- churn out national titles and NFL draft picks at Alabama. He knew (probably all along) that Pruitt was his guy but as he does with everything else as FSU's head coach, Fisher had to put his would-be assistant through the process and see how he emerged on the other side.
"This is not a hire that we just met a guy and knew he did something for a long period of time," Fisher said. "There was other guys that I talked to and other guys that were involved in the process. A lot of good guys. When I went through that is who we felt most comfortable with and felt gave us the best chance to be successful."
As another member of the Nick Saban coaching tree, Pruitt will bring with him many of the lessons that this generation's best collegiate coach has taught him.
The Seminoles will remain a 4-3 defensive team but they will be even more multiple than they were this season when they showed a steady dose of 3-4 looks to opposing offenses. Pruitt's addition -- and the hiring of new defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri (another branch on the Saban tree) -- will help FSU be more adept at squaring off against any type of opposing offensive identity in the future.
"Alabama brings a lot more different things to the table," Fisher said. "Different packages and different blitz packages and different things that I think can really feature some of the exploits of some of the players on our team like a lot of the safeties and linebackers."
The pedigree is there. The ability to recruit elite talent and turn it into NFL-ready talent is there. The understanding and wherewithal to withstand and emerge victorious from an hours-long, in depth interview with Fisher is there as well. But is the experience?
The only knock on Pruitt perception-wise is the fact that he is green in the college-coaching world. His first coaching gig outside of high school football was the one he has held the past three seasons under Saban. His new gig at Florida State will be his first as a coordinator. His rise has been successful but swift.
Not to worry, says Fisher.
"When I went to LSU I had one year," FSU's third-year coach said. "Kirby [Smart] went to Alabama he had none. When Will [Muschamp] got hired at LSU he had none ... you know people, when they answer questions in the interviews of how they do things [and] what they do, you know you're people and you've got to trust your instincts about to hire and what to hire."
Added Fisher: "We got who we wanted."