I mentioned on Monday that I had been working on a list of possible defensive coordinator candidates, but had no intention of posting it. Even we sports bloggers (well some of us) have a basic grasp of what is and isn't a tad unseemly, and seriously proposing replacements while you still have a defensive coordinator fits the bill.
Of course, that's all irrelevant now (HT: podunkdawg). I imagine that this coaching search will be like a snowflake in Tifton. You better take some pictures to remember it, because the whole thing will be over quickly. Mark Richt wants to get a guy in place to stabilize recruiting and begin building a defensive staff. I also think there's at least a 50% chance that our new defensive coordinator will not be on this list, either in this installment or the next one. Mark Richt's M.O. in the past has been to hire solid guys who either a) none of us have heard of or b) we didn't know CMR was pursuing. That's just how the guy does business. You've been warned. So, with no further ado and in no particular order, some of the names you'll surely hear bandied about in the coming hours and days:
Kirby Smart: The fans' list seems to start here. The Georgia alum and former Bulldog assistant has helped build a solid defense at Alabama. However there have been rumors that Nick Saban keeps a tight rein on things, and that Smart might be looking to go somewhere where he can build his own identity. I don't believe it. Alabama has things rolling with a generally young team that should be very good for the foreseeable future. And few schools have proven more willing to pay top dollar for coaches than Bama. That being said, Smart currently makes $360,000 in Tuscaloosa while Willie Martinez was making a shade over $325,000 in Athens. 10 percent is not an insurmountable gap. Also keep in mind that if the rumors of Rodney Garner leaving are true, we'd also need a Recruiting Coordinator. Assuming John Lilly didn't get that post, Smart would be the perfect guy for the job. He's a south Georgia guy who's recruited the state at Georgia and Alabama.
Smart might be the ideal candidate for the job. And as an alumnus he'll certainly get a phone call, and he'll get an interview if he wants one. That being said, coaching searches are not about who you want, they're about who you can get. Even if, in Bear Bryant's words "Mama calls him home", Smart would certainly be hard-pressed to leave an ideal situation in Tuscaloosa for anything but a head coaching gig. I am fairly certain however that after the Tide defense's excellent season in 2009 and another offseason of being in demand, Smart will be receiving a tidy raise (pun totally intended). Likelihood (on a scale of 1 to 10): 6
Tommy Tuberville: He's the safe hire. A veteran SEC coach whose Auburn defenses always seemed to play above their talent level. But Tommy Tuberville would be a fool to leave the broadcasting studio at this point. He's got the folksy manner and the quick wit for it, and he'll make all the money he needs without having to pull 18 hour days and answer to yahoos (as opposed to Wahoos) like me. Mark Richt would likewise be a fool to bring in a guy who would clearly be a candidate to replace him if the defense turns around but overall results lag. As if that weren't enough, it's hard to imagine Tuberville as anything but a short term solution. He'd just be crashing on our proverbial couch until a) Steve Spurrier retires, b) Bobby Petrino gets a better offer or c) Texas A&M's cadet corps court marshals Mike Sherman. Likelihood:3
Bob Sanders: Sanders is the defensive line coach of the Buffalo Bills and the former defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers. He was also the guy responsible for the University of Florida defensive lines that ate a series of Georgia QB's for lunch between 1990 and 2000. Sanders is a North Carolina native and an elder statesman who preaches a "bloody street fight mentality" that seems to get results wherever he coaches. Georgia would be a nice place for him to retire from, and Sanders would be a nice guy to replace Rodney Garner if he doesn't get the nod to replace Martinez. Plus since the Bills are already making a change at the top, he could be available for interviews before other NFL assistants. If he got the job, you'd hear no argument from me. However, I don't think he has any significant ties to Coach Richt. And coaches making program-changing hires don't usually gurn things over to strangers, even highly qualified ones. Likelihood:5
Dick Bumpas: TCU Defensive Coordinator. But you folks are astute observers of the college football scene and already knew that. The Horned Frogs have been among the nation's stingiest defensive teams in recent years utilizing a base 4-2-5 alignment that brings pressure from all over the place and performs well against spread offenses. Ironically, it's not very different from the alignment Willie Martinez has utilized against Florida the last couple of years. Bumpas is an older guy who might not have a lot of aspirations of becoming a head coach. Not that I'd know for sure. I haven't had a chance to ask him. But speaking of head coaches, I have a sneaking suspicion that TCU head coach Gary Patterson may have more than a little to do with TCU's defensive schemes. If that's the case, then it wouldn't be fair to view Bumpas as a silver bullet. That being said, TCU is one team we know we can win a bidding war with. That might appeal to Damon Evans, who has been hesitant to say he'd throw cash out the Butts-Mehre windows in order to sign top assistant coaches. Likelihood: 5
Will Muschamp: Ditto the stuff I said about Kirby Smart, only with "Texas" in place of Alabama. Curiously, Muschamp is viewed as a defensive genius in some quarters of the country, but not here among his alma mater's fanbase. This is largely because his head-to-head matchups with the Bulldogs have not been terribly impressive. Muschamp is of course the head coach-in-waiting at Texas, but let's face it, if you were Mack Brown would you retire right now? Of course not. Mack Brown is making boatloads of money winning tons of football games and getting his pick of recruits from the most talent-laden state in the country. At some point you'd have to think Muschamp begins to wonder if this coach-in-waiting business is all that it's cracked up to be. I just don't think it happens quite yet. Luring Muschamp would require a similar coach-in-waiting guarantee, and Mark Richt is about 10 years too young to talk about naming a successor while maintaining a straight face. But if Coach Richt were to suddenly decide that he wants to move to Paris and study art history fulltime, this might be your guy. Likelihood: 3
Charlie Strong: Again, it's not a question of who you want but who you can get. While Georgia is in the middle of the pack in assistant coach salaries in the SEC (6th), Florida is behind us. Damon Evans has admitted that Florida is pretty much the measuring stick for the University of Georgia football program. Going after the guy who is most responsible for Florida's success in 2009 would be a powerful statement that he's committed to passing the Gators. At some point Charlie Strong will either get a head coaching position (at Louisville, for example) or give up on the notion altogether. I just don't think he's given up at this point, and sadly Florida has more cache as a waiting room than we do. Likelihood: 2
Brian Van Gorder: This one would be interesting. If you could distill all the criticisms of Willie Martinez down to one, it would be this: he's not Brian Van Gorder. Van Gorder's Atlanta defense has not exactly been burning down the Georgia Dome this season, and if Mike Smith chose to make changes he might be available. That being said, like most NFL assistants he wouldn't be available until the NFL season is over, and with Atlanta in the playoff hunt that could easily be after January 10th. I don't think Coach Richt would wait that long on anyone. This one goes under the category of interesting, but highly unlikely. Likelihood: 2
Rodney Garner: Garner was significantly the only one of our defensive coaches who was retained. One might think that gives him the inside edge to be the new coordinator. I'm not so sure. If Rodney Garner is going to be our next defensive coordinator, the fact that he hasn't yet been named as such signifies to me that he'll have to interview for the job just like everybody else. I don't know how well that will sit with Coach Garner. David Hale also recently noted Garner's somewhat unusual arrangement and apparently cuddly relationship with Damon Evans. I just don't think Garner is a lifer in Athens. He just hasn't found the right job somewhere else yet.
Also, check out David Hale's excellent wrapup of Coach Richt's afternoon teleconference on today's decision. I don't want to steal Dave's thunder, I'll just say that Coach Richt mentioned some things that you'll find telling if you read closely. Finally, I'd like to extend my personal thanks to Coaches Martinez, Jancek and Fabris. I have no reason to believe that any of them ever gave less than their absolute best to the University of Georgia and its football team. I hope that all of them move on to great things, and that they continue to have a positive influence on the lives of young men. Until tomorrow . . .