Saturday Night Dawg Bites: Todd Grantham, Derek Dooley, and the Remote Possibility That the Georgia Bulldogs May Not be Headed Over a Cliff

As all of you are aware, I had what amounted to a death in the family last week, as a result of which I was effectively incommunicado on Friday (the evening of the visitation) and Saturday (the day of the memorial service). I want to thank MaconDawg for stepping up to the plate in a major way in my absence, as well as to express my gratitude to the many regular commenters who contributed to the conversation in a mighty way.

So, what did I miss? Oh, right.

Regular readers of this site know that, after being burned by my previous optimism, I adopted a clear preference for viewing the glass as half-empty, lest I be blinded by looking on the bright side. This perspective is, I believe, consistent with a venerable University of Georgia tradition, as Wally Butts, Vince Dooley, and Larry Munson all were Hall of Fame-caliber worriers. If you’re looking for me to curb all enthusiasm and scuttle even the most cautious optimism in order to declare the sky in free-fall, you won’t be disappointed; viz.:

The Gym Dogs lost to Alabama! The nastiest rivalry in women’s gymnastics saw Jay Clark’s Georgia squad fall at Tuscaloosa by a 196.275-195.5 margin. I regard a gymnastics loss to ‘Bama with only slightly less disgust than a football loss to Auburn. After the meet, Coach Clark said: "It’s not time to push the panic button." Dude, I was on the verge of being ready to push the panic button after last week’s meet, but I’ll give the longtime Suzanne Yoculan assistant the benefit of the doubt . . . for now. I’ll be honest with you, though; since women’s gymnastics has been almost the only ray of sunshine to pierce the cloud cover hovering above Bulldog Nation for the last two years, I do not take a possible downturn in our five-time defending national champion program as an indicator that is anything other than ominous.

While we’re on the subject of Georgia teams that play their home games in Stegeman Coliseum, I might as well address the most recent men’s basketball game, in which the Hoop Dogs led by eleven at the break yet went on to lose the game. We are veering dangerously close to Lane Kiffin "moral victory" territory for my taste, but there is something to be said for comparing Mark Fox’s first season on the hardwood in Athens to Nick Saban’s first season on the gridiron in Tuscaloosa. No, Coach Fox won’t have the Red and Black bound for a Final Four berth a couple of years from now, but what we are seeing now are the growing pains that accompany the progress of the process. It hasn’t shown up in the record yet, but I am confident that the day is on the horizon when Mark Fox will have transformed Georgia basketball into something other than an utter embarrassment. That may sound like damning him with faint praise, but remember that the Bulldogs have the weakest basketball heritage in a conference bereft of a strong roundball tradition (Kentucky excluded, of course) and our best player ever just turned 50. If Mark Fox gets Georgia to the basement, he’s taken this program to the next level.

USC made a panic hire when the Trojans reached out to Lane Kiffin; after Mike Riley and Jack Del Rio turned them down and a couple of other candidates quickly withdrew themselves from consideration, Southern California had to move, and, in desperation, the powers that be in Los Angeles elected to rehire the staff that put the Men of Troy in the NCAA’s crosshairs in the first place. This is obviously and unbelievably stupid, but a drowning man will reach even for the tip of a sword. The Derek Dooley hire also was indicative of desperation, but less so.

Coach Dooley 2.0, like his predecessor in Knoxville, is young and presumably possesses an impressive pigskin pedigree by virtue of having the father he has, but nothing in his resume yet suggested "SEC head coach in waiting." Nevertheless, Derek Dooley is able to boast of a "yet," which is more than Lane Kiffin is entitled to claim. Tennessee had to move swiftly, and perhaps the Volunteers moved too swiftly for their own good, but, this time, unlike last time, there is reason to believe the Big Orange’s new head coach will succeed, even if that might not be the way to bet. In the meantime, Derek has Barbara’s wit and Vince’s circumspection, so he should be entertaining without being embarrassing. In other words, Tennessee football now finds itself at the same level as Georgia basketball, so not making an ass of himself will mark a significant upgrade from the last guy.

Alas, it appears we won’t have Kippy to kick around anymore. The guy may be a heck of a coach, but his name is "Kippy." That’s not the name you give a wide receivers coach, it’s the name you give a cartoon bear who serves as the spokescreature for a particular brand of peanut butter.

If, as has been suggested, Mike Bobo is a candidate to succeed Derek Dooley at Louisiana Tech, such a hire would strike me as odd and iffy without being necessarily mistaken. I have been less critical of Coach Bobo than many Bulldog fans, both because the former Georgia quarterback didn’t tell Joe Cox to throw all those interceptions and because Mark Richt improved as a head coach when he relinquished the play-calling duties, but I question his readiness at this juncture in his life and career. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn Coach Bobo was ready to take off the training wheels. I hope whatever is best for Coach Bobo and his family comes to pass and I am confident Georgia will fare well, either way. I would prefer not to change both coordinators in the same year, but, if new blood is needed, perhaps a Keith Richards-style total transfusion wouldn’t be a bad thing.

When I temporarily took myself out of the loop on Thursday evening, I was looking forward to learning the results of the New Orleans Saints’ and the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff games this weekend. Travis Jones’s team took care of business against the Arizona Cardinals, while Todd Grantham’s club tees it up against the Minnesota Vikings at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. Now that the hire has been announced, whatever Dallas does is a win-win for us. A Cowboys loss gets Coach Grantham to the Classic City sooner, while a Cowboys win allows Georgia to tell recruits to keep their eyes on the NFL postseason if they want to find out about the Bulldogs’ new defensive coordinator. You all are hereby cleared to root according to your personal preference . . . although, either way, you should cheer for the Dallas D, even if (like me) you want them to lose 2-0.

That brings us to Todd Grantham. Much of merit already has been written about Coach Grantham, at Dawg Sports and elsewhere, but the best way I know to judge him at this point, before he has coached a down of football in Athens, is to compare him to the guy many of us hoped we would get, Kirby Smart. Consider, therefore, the tale of the tape:

Todd Grantham has been in coaching for twenty years, with nine of those years at the college level and the other eleven in the NFL. Kirby Smart has been in coaching for eleven years, with ten of those years at the college level and the other season in the NFL.

Todd Grantham’s position responsibilities have included defensive tackles, defensive ends, and inside linebackers. He was the defensive coordinator at Cleveland from 2005 to 2007. Kirby Smart’s position responsibilities have included cornerbacks, safeties, and running backs. He was the defensive coordinator at Valdosta State in 2001 and at Alabama in 2008 and 2009.

Todd Grantham was an assistant under Nick Saban for three years at Michigan State. Kirby Smart was an assistant under Nick Saban for five years at Louisiana State, Miami, and Alabama.

Todd Grantham was born on September 13, which means he shares a birthday with my mother. Kirby Smart was born on December 23, which means he shares a birthday with my mother’s brother.

In sum, Coach Grantham has nearly twice as much coaching experience as Coach Smart (more, if you consider the fact that Coach Smart spent a year at Georgia as an administrative assistant and two more at Florida State as a graduate assistant); both have coached three different positions; both have three years’ experience as defensive coordinators; and both studied under Coach Saban.

All of which is to say that MaconDawg is right: Coach Grantham is Coach Smart with more mileage on the odometer, but he’ll be on the verge of turning 44 when the 2010 season starts, so he is no old fogey.

We’ll see when autumn arrives, obviously, but, on paper, it’s a good hire. I’m having difficulty finding ways to foresee how this could end in absolute disaster, which is both comforting and worrisome; naturally, I am doing my duty by focusing on the fretfulness provoked by the uncertainty surrounding my inability to find a valid reason for concern. (If I can’t find good cause to doubt, it is inevitable that I will be caught utterly unawares by the dropping of the other shoe, after all.) For now, though, I’m feeling pretty good . . . or, at least, as good as it is possible for someone like me to feel.

Welcome to Bulldog Nation, Coach Grantham. Head-butt a couple of players once they’ve put on their helmets and we’ll write an anthem to Grantham.

Go ‘Dawgs!

jay
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