Replacing Todd Grantham will be Mark Richt’s most important hire at Georgia

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Louisville just did Mark Richt a favor by hiring away defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Bobby Petrino in affect just did what Mark Richt never had the guts to do, and with the vacant coordinator position, it brings upon Richt’s most important hire during his tenure.

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Talent has never been the problem for the Bulldogs, but developing that talent and getting top players to play to their potential has been.

And Todd Grantham couldn’t do that. Despite an NFL-filled roster, Grantham’s defenses have underachieved, and his defenses were no better – numbers-wise – than Willie Martinez’s. Outside of 2011 – and maybe part of 2012 – Georgia’s defense hasn’t played to level they’ve been capable of. You may have to go back to 2006 under Martinez to find a defense that actually played up to potential the last several years.

Richt is a winner, but his tenure has been defined by mediocrity and underachieving. Despite putting top players in the NFL year after year and a 126-45 career record, Georgia and Richt have proven just how hard it is to win a national championship. LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Tennessee all won national championships in the BCS era. Georgia belongs in that group; they get as much or more talent than every single one of those former champions, and yet, they have no championship.

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Richt’s tenure could be defined by this hire, and it’s the most important hire he’s had since he’s been at Georgia. He has a chance to erase the past and build a future championship program. Georgia has 10 starters returning on defense, and a strong core nucleus to build a championship defense.

Several defensive coordinators have been connected and mentioned with respect to the opening, and it all starts with Alabama DC Kirby Smart. The Georgia graduate is sitting pretty at Alabama, and he can handpick his future head-coaching destination. His salary moves from $1.15 million to $1.3 this year. Truly, I feel Smart would only make the move if he’ll get paid more money and has some sort of a look into the future of the program. I also feel that Richt could step down quicker than most anticipate, and that could segue into the Kirby Smart era at Georgia. He’s not going to make a lateral move to be another coordinator. Besides, Greg McGarity isn’t going to pay Smart that kind of money to be just a coordinator. This could be a fascinating look into Richt’s future if Smart is hired.

Other potential candidates:

  • Kirk Olivadottia, UGA inside LBs coach
  • Chris Wilson, UGA defensive line coach
  • Clancy Pendergrast, former Southern Cal defensive coordinator
  • Manny Diaz, former Texas defensive coordinator
  • David Gibbs, Houston defensive coordinator
  • Randy Shannon, Arkansas LBs coach
  • Jeremy Pruitt, FSU defensive coordinator

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Smart would be the obvious homerun hire, but Pendergrast or Shannon would be strong hires, too. Other names like Auburn’s Ellis Johnson and South Carolina’s Lorenzo Ward have been mentioned as candidates, but would either be willing to leave their current situations?

Mark Richt is facing his most important hire since he’s been at Georgia, a hire that could ultimately redefine his tenure.

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

COMMENTS

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  • Not to be mean or anything, but don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I feel like the talent of Murray was wasted for 4 years because the defense couldn’t keep up with the offense in spite of all the amazing talent on that side of the ball. When a team fields NFL caliber talent and still gets gashed every week year after year, then the blame needs to be turned toward the coaches.

  • It sucks that money trumps all. I mean, doesn’t it count for anything that Kirby could come back to his alma mater, coach a year or two or three, show he is not just Saban’s puppet and coach a defense back up to being competitive, be on the same sideline as one of his best friends (Bobo), and still get paid handsomely for it? It’s not like UGA is going to insist on paying him $500K or something that low. Yet, we have to assume we’re going to not only have to top Kirby’s current pay, but maybe offer HCIW, slapping Bobo in the face in the process? Yeah, Kirby as our next DC is wishful thinking. Sometimes, wishes come true though.

    • I agree with you that it should be less about the money, but it really isn’t when it all breaks down. Kirby is the name attached to the best defense in the nation over the course of the past decade (roughly), and the defense responsible for 3 national championships. It’s going to be less about money and more about the “when’s it gonna be my time?” mentality, and while he isn’t going to take over for Saban any time soon, a lateral move isn’t what is in the cards for Kirby, hell the Vandy job may be what’s in the cards. But then again, some soothsaying, Nostradamus type at Wikipedia is already reporting a 5-year $10 million deal that Kirby will sign on Wednesday to be the DC at Georgia.

      • Yeah, I see what you’re saying, but that’s why I am not thinking Kirby needs to be at UGA for a long time. He can either further prove his worth and leave after 2 or 3 years, but before leaving, at least build a solid foundation for UGA defenses after he leaves. I understand him feeling like now should be his time, but his door wasn’t getting beaten down when Texas, Penn State, Louisville, or USC had openings (and I haven’t heard Vandy’s been calling yet). In other words, AD’s seem to think Kirby has something more to prove and that “something” may just be that he is the reason behind those successful Bama D’s, not Saban (which is what many people believe).

  • I don’t think that you really can call this Richt’s ‘Most Important Hire at UGA’; he’s dealt with an underperforming defense for much of his career, and ‘more of the same’ would be just that: more of the same. It’s only ‘important’ to the peanut gallery, really. Richt is going to hire who he’s going to hire, and- as ever- the only person he believes he must justify himself to is the AD.
    Personally, I’d like to see what Kirby Smart could do, but I understand that UGA may not want to look like it’s become a “UGA Alumni Only” kind of institution. The whispers I always hear say that Richt is going to retire sooner rather than later so that he can pursue his dream of missionary work, so I think the Head Coach In Waiting carrot is more a media creation than a true enticement: Richt is going to let McGarrity do his job whenever that day rolls around.

    If I were a betting man, I’d say that we should expect to be surprised by the choice yet again.

    • I think “most important…” is fair in this situation. Grantham was supposed to erase the under-performing D and didn’t. With him gone, I feel that this hire is very important in changing the way our players perceive themselves as a unit. Grantham was a defensive mulligan for Richt. If the new DC continues the tradition of mediocrity, it will say that Richt can’t bring a good defense to the field anymore no matter who he hires. If Pruitt proves to be a stud, then Richt re-establishes his legacy in Athens.

  • Richt is 53?That’s still considered youngish in coach age. Charlie Strong the new hire at Texas is 53. So ‘coach in waiting’ is kind of dumb. Unless the speculation about retirement is true? I personaly don’t think he’ retireing. Honestly you work during you productive years. You retire in your 60′s. Grantham left because he felt the ‘under-achiever’ heat. With ANY defense at all UGA beaats Alabama, Nebraska, etc etc. It was a lateral at best or downward move for him. ACC? I doubt Smart will come to Athens? But we can hope? Hey maybe we can get Jon Gruden !!!

    • Agreed, it was a graceful stepping-down, in my opinion. I would’ve loved to see Smart on our side, but we went for him a few years ago and came up empty. Nothing has changed but his salary and number of rings. Pruitt is a good pick up. We’ve had a lot of success with former-FSU coaches!

  • Everybody wants ALABAMA’s coaches.

  • “Segway”?? Really, Jon? Come on now.

    The word you are looking for is ‘Segue’.

    I expect to see that sort of mistake in someone’s random facebook post, but not in one of your articles. Ouch!

  • I had a friend a long time ago that said Tubberville would become Richt’s assistant a year or 2 after he left Auburn. To that I asked “Why would you go work for somebody you have a winning record against? I have to believe the same is true for Kirby Smart. I don’t see him going to UGA unless he’s coming in as a head coach, and Richt is not old enough to appoint a “Head Coach in Waiting” I wouldn’t be surprised if they pluck somebody who has been a head coach in the past that’s just itching to get into a position where he can return to the head coaching ranks again. Ed Orgeron? Gene Chizik? My guess is as good as the next person, but I have to think that Georgia has to go after somebody who is a notable name who’s not coaching at the moment but has experience. Not to mention somebody who is not going to be gunning for Richt’s job out of the gate.

  • Apparently Smart has been offered 1.5 million per year for five years.

    • No surprise, if true. It makes sense they would open the vault, but $1.5 million is a ton of cash for a coordinator. However, with all the money funneling into the SEC via the SEC Network, $1.5 million could become standard. Interested to see what happens here.

    • I’d be surprised if they offered Kirby that much, given the fact that Bobo doesn’t make anywhere near that much and he’s been at UGA FOREVER!
      Time will tell.

      • I believe UGA intends to bump Bobo’s pay regardless. Kirby has a better resume, though, and he certainly has the leverage, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to lay down that kind of cash for him.

      • Great point. It’s tough to tell your OC who has had one of the most explosive O in the country have fun with your $600k and thanks for being loyal, but then hire away Smart for $1.5. Hearing Jeremy Pruitt is the target, as opposed to Smart.

        • And Pruitt for the win! Came up empty with Smart 4 years ago, no reason to think he’d come now. Agree that it would be a tough conversation to tell Bobo he’s getting peanuts in comparison to the DC, but I don’t think many teams have been after Bobo and he catches a lot of flak over play-calling. It’s not just points, it’s game management.

  • What happened to collins from MSU that you mentioned in another article yesterday?

    • I did a separate piece on him as a secondary candidate. Still think Smart and Pruitt are the big fish on the board before you start getting into Collins and others.

      • Well, I’m glad they didn’t come calling. 2013 was the first time in recent years that State’s defense actually was vastly improved over where they started the year. I feel that is due to Collins having the job on his own as opposed to being co defensive coordinator. I was just perplexed by your original story on Collins and this one that didn’t even mention him in the top 8. Thanks for the reply.