In 1995, Hurricane Opal slammed into the Gulf Coast.

It caused massive damage throughout the Southeast United States in part because it snuck up on so many people. People who were focused so intently on the verdict of the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

RELATED: Georgia AD releases statement about decision to move on from Mark Richt

Opal made landfall in the United States one day after Simpson received his “not guilty” verdict.

In no way does a coaching search equate to a $5 billion disaster or the loss of life. But the Les Miles soap opera at LSU seemed to create a parallel affect on conversation surrounding Georgia coach Mark Richt’s job status.

By the time Tigers fans — and many media members and entertainment-lovers across the region — got done celebrating LSU’s retention of Miles, it was Sunday afternoon. And Georgia remained silent. Many assumed that four consecutive wins to close the season granted Richt a temporary stay at the least.

Georgia firing Richt wouldn’t have been shocking in early November when the Bulldogs were 5-3 with apparent internal squabbles. “Shocking” probably isn’t an appropriate word now, either. But the news caught more than one fan and media member off guard when it dropped just after noon ET Sunday.

One can almost guarantee Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity created a short list of potential candidates long before he and Richt decided to part ways. It shouldn’t be all that much of a scramble to put together some targets for the UGA administration.

But the decision is an important one. Richt was beloved for his character and consistency, even though he didn’t win enough big games or championships to keep his job longer. If better than 9-3 is the standard, Georgia needs to make a good hire.

With that in mind, a list of names, potential candidates to replace Richt, already has begun circulating.

Here are some coaches likely to be candidates for the job in Athens.

  • Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart: A Georgia graduate and a heck of a defensive coach, smart has earned an opportunity at a head coaching job. He’s waited patiently for the right opportunity. Hiring a first-year coach normally would be out of the question in Athens. But he’s been Nick Saban’s right-hand man longer than any other assistant. And his presence may help retain defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who worked under Smart in Tuscaloosa and has the defense playing pretty good football.
  • Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher: If the Seminoles coach had no theoretical interest in the LSU job, why would he be interested in Georgia? The recruiting base is more attractive in Georgia than it is in Louisiana, and UGA has an official opening, while Les Miles still held the LSU position. But Fisher’s pay raise likely would be negligible, and he’d be trading the relative ease of the ACC for a cut-threat SEC.
  • Houston head coach Tom Herman: The Cougars reportedly have offered him about $3 million per season to stay in the American Athletic Conference. If Herman’s ultimate goal is to coach Texas someday, that may be his best path. But we’re talking a number of years down the line. Herman only is a first-year head coach. But he’s been labeled as an offensive guru, including his days as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Ohio State. He’s an ace recruiter. Oh, and speaking of the Buckeyes, Herman has proven he can beat Alabama, at least as an assistant.
  • Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen: Some coaching insiders are calling Georgia a “dream job” for the Bulldogs head man. Such a marriage would improve UGA’s quarterback outlook drastically, as Mullen has coached players like Dak Prescott, Tim Tebow and Alex Smith. It also would improve the talent level that Mullen could recruit and get him out of a brutal SEC West. Still, this move wouldn’t be the easiest to sell to Georgia fans, considering his losing SEC record.
  • Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly: Admittedly, this is an unlikely wild card. If Kelly gets run out of Philly, and doesn’t stay in the NFL with a team like the Tennessee Titans (Marcus Mariota), I’d expect his next option is to return to the Pac-12 at USC. But we know Kelly has an ego. Why else would he turn an NFL franchise into his personal science experiment, both with training techniques and as a coach/general manager? He felt like he wanted to tackle a bigger challenge than Oregon. Perhaps Georgia could convince him that the SEC is that challenge. If Kelly came to the SEC, perhaps the conference finally would have a legitimate foil to Nick Saban at Alabama.