Dec. 11, 2013
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – They have followed paths that are different though similar. They have both become prominent in their profession long before anyone would have expected.
And on the night of Jan. 6, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Rhett Lashlee, Auburn’s offensive coordinator, and Jeremy Pruitt, Florida State’s defensive coordinator, will match wits in the BCS Championship game.
In 2009, Lashlee was in his first season as an Auburn graduate assistant, working for offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Pruitt was director of player development at Alabama and two years removed from being an assistant coach at Hoover High School.
Lashlee left Auburn after the 2010 national championship season to be the offensive coordinator at Samford. He followed Malzahn to Arkansas State and back to Auburn. Pruitt coached Alabama defensive backs from 2010-2012 and was named Florida State defensive coordinator after last season.
And now this: Lashlee’s Auburn offense, playing in the Southeastern Conference, leads the nation in rushing at 335.7 yards per game, is 11th in total offense at 505 yards per game and 12th in scoring at 40.2 points per game. Pruitt’s Florida State defense, is playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, leads the nation against scoring, giving up just 10.7 points per game. It is third in total yards at 268.5 yards per game, 14th against the run at 116.5 yards per game.
On Tuesday, in Little Rock, Lashlee, 30, and Pruitt, 38, were among five finalists for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant. Neither won it, but that they were there was remarkable.
“I’ve been extremely blessed, and I don’t know why,” Lashlee said. “God has put me in a position with great people, with Coach Malzahn and this coaching staff. I feel blessed. I know it is a great responsibility and great honor. I don’t take it lightly.”
Lashlee knew his relative youth would get attention when he returned to Auburn, and it did. He is 32 years younger than defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, but Lashlee is unfazed.
“One thing I’ve always been is a competitor,” Lashlee said. “I like to compete. When I was growing up I played every sport because I would compete. If I was playing cards, I wanted to beat you bad.”
When Nick Saban was named Alabama’s had coach in 2007, Pruitt, the secondary coach at Hoover, had no reason to expect his life was about to change. That was before Saban called. And then, after last season, Fisher called.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting into, to be honest,” Pruitt said. “I knew Jimbo Fisher. He’s the main reason I went to Florida State. What a great I guy. “Only being in the business for 3-4 years, I knew for me to take a job like that it had to be the right guy and the right program. I felt Jimbo was the perfect fit for that.”
And so it is that Lashlee and Fisher have arrived at the biggest game of their coaching careers.
“It’s been a fast ride,” Lashlee said, “but it’s been good.”
The Auburn-Florida State showdown is rife with connections.
Fisher and Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett were at Auburn from 1993-1998. Auburn wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig coaches Florida State quarterbacks from 2010-2012 and recruited Heisman Trophy favorite Jameis Winston. When Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was at Alabama, Pruitt was his graduate assistant.
Not long after Christmas, they all will travel across the country for the biggest game of their lives.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: