Here at Dawg Sports we're taking an in depth look at the candidates whose names are surfacing to replace Todd Grantham as the defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia. This morning we looked at all the reasons Kirby Smart is not likely to be the next occupant of the Willie Martinez Chair in Thumb-Raising Studies. Next we look at a man without a home right now: former USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
The Pendergast File
Clancy Pendergast has a varied resume, one which includes checks on most of the boxes I would expect Mark Richt to want to check off in his search for a defensive coordinator. The 45 year old played his college ball at Arizona, and has spent the majority of his coaching career west of the Mississippi. Pendergast spent 15 years in the NFL, the last 6 of them as a defensive coordinator. He served in that capacity for the Arizona Cardinals from 2004 to 2008, the season in which the Cards played for a Super Bowl title. He then went to Kansas City in 2009 to coordinate the Chiefs' defense, which sadly wasn't that coordinated, gave up a ton of points, and got the Chiefs staff fired.
But you know what they say: there are two kinds of coaches, those who've been fired and those who are about to be fired. The secret is in the bouncing back, and Pendergast did that. He took over as the defensive coordinator at Cal in 2010, and engineered an immediate turnaround. The key stat? Pendergast's 2010 Cal defense gave up more than 17 points only four times over the course of an otherwise abysmal season for the Bears. A 52-31 loss to Chris Ault's pistol-packing, Colin Kaepernick-led attack, twin 48-14 losses to USC and Stanford, and a 35-7 defeat at the hands of Oregon State were the outliers. They held then #1 Oregon's high octane attack to 15 points in a wrenching 15-13 loss, and fell to #14 Arizona 10-9. It's no exaggeration to say that if Jeff Tedford's offense had played like Pendergast's defense, the Bears would have been bowl eligible.
The results however were not as profound in 2011, as the Bears gave up 30 or more points on 7 occasions. In 2012 he led a young unit which returned 5 starters and got torched in a fashion the 2013 Georgia Bulldog defense would have found shocking. Pendergast's tenure in Berkley ended with a 59-17 shellacking by Oregon (in which they surrendered 575 yards of offense) and a 62-14 housing by Oregon State, which heralded the end of the Tedford era.
Pendergast once again landed on his feet, this time replacing Monte Kiffin at USC. Trojan players responded well to Pendergast's arrival, and despite playing for 3 different head coaches the USC defense finished 16th in the nation in scoring defense at 21.2 points per game. What would you have given for the Bulldog defense to have given up only 21.2 points per game in 2013?
Nevertheless, Pendergast was let go in L.A. when Steve Sarkisian took over and chose to bring defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox with him from Washington (note: Wilcox, a former Boise State coach, is another rising star in the ranks of defensive coaches). So suddenly, despite gaining the confidence of the Trojan players and producing solid returns through adversity, Clancy Pendergast finds himself looking for a job.
Pendergast has used multiple fronts through his career, but his bread and butter is the 52 defense. The 52 has evolved through the years, gaining prominence initially through Oklahoma's Bud Wilkinson in the 1950's. The Oklahoma 5-2 places two middle linebackers over the offensive guards on most snaps. It relies on 3 big, run stuffing inside defensive linemen capable of controlling 2 gaps on a given play. The outside defensive linemen look a lot like 3-4 outside linebackers, and play a similar role, often backing into pass coverage or playing with their hands off the ground and in space.
For this reason, it's been pointed out that Pendergast's system would make good use of the Bulldogs' already present personnel. The system is also known for its simplicity which, after all the staring, shrugging, and befuddlement that characterized the 2013 Bulldog defense, sounds pretty good.
And Now The Bad News
As the discussion of his Cal tenure above illustrates, Pendergast's defenses haven't been all that consistent. His year one results have been great, but it seems that offenses may have adjusted to his scheme over time. Pendergast also hasn't coached east of Texas since a stint as a graduate assistant at Mississippi State over 20 years ago. I view that as less of a detriment than evidence that he's unlikely to come. We have coaches on staff (Bobo, McClendon, Ball) with plenty of experience recruiting the southeast. But nothing in Pendergast's past (his "Penderpast", if you will) indicates that the Arizona native will be moving to Georgia.
If Mark Richt had an older brother who looked like Tom Smothers, it would be Clancy Pendergast. Here's a brief video of Pendergast talking about his defensive philosophy last August on the eve of his Trojan tenure. Note the part about playing on the offense's side of the line of scrimmage. Try to remember the last time a Georgia defense did that: