Reaction around Bulldog Nation to the decision not to renew the contracts of Coaches Martinez, Fabris and Jancek seems to be pretty consistent: everybody knew it needed to happen though nobody is really happy about it. I am pretty proud of our fanbase for this. I haven't seen a single tasteless photoshop job or similar ill-considered bahavior. Maybe I'm just not trolling the right corners of the internet, but if that's the case please don't tell me. I prefer to remain blissfully ignorant.
Having said that, the task before us is just about as clear as the inevitable course of action taken by Mark Richt yesterday. Kyle and Paul sum it up in very similar terms. We need a hardworking, fire-breathing, turnover-fostering, recruit-snagging, student of the fundamentals. That's easier said than done, though. As you probably gleaned from yesterday's installment, pretty much ever guy we'd want will be tough to get, and pretty much every guy we know we could get gives us a reason not to want him. I'm hoping (and believe) that we'll go for one of the guys who'll be tougher to get. The second group of 8 potential candidates starts off with a couple of guys who fit that description:
Bud Foster: The longtime Virginia Tech defensive coordinator would have to be on any sensible wish list. His defenses in Blacksburg have consistently given up few points and created turnovers by the bushel. And for a long time he's done it with less talent than a lot of other guys. His unit's "lunch pail defense" reminds me a little of something Erk Russell would appreciate. And being like Erk is a compliment in my book in all contexts that don't involve hair-styling. However, Foster is probably a guy whose next move is to a head coaching position. Foster is currently making $402,000 per year, which in "Damon Evans-ese" is "competitive", though not exhorbitant. If Damon were really willing to blow out the bank, I don't think the Hokies could win a bidding war with us. Likelihood: 5
Kevin Steele: Dabo Swinney's DC at Clemson is well-traveled, even by assistant football coach standards. You name the school or football genius of the moment, and Steele probably worked there and/or for him. With the exception of a stint as the Head Coach at Baylor (the only thing on his resume that really makes me question his decision-making skills), Steele has spent the past two decades coaching linebackers at Nebraska for Tom Osborne, with the Carolina Panthers for Dom Capers, and at Florida State for Bobby Bowden, while also holding the unique title "Head Coach of the Defense" at Alabama for Nick Saban. You want a guy with a college football pedigree? Steele's your man.
As many jabs as Georgia fans take at Clemson, it's important to remember that we recruit a lot of the same players. Steele also has a reputation as an excellent recruiter, and unlike the NFL guys mentioned for the job he would already have connections with some of the guys we're recruiting for 2010 and 2011 from his current stint on the shores of Lake Hartwell. His 3 year term at FSU give him a potential nexus with Coach Richt, which I've said I believe will be key. Coach Richt isn't turning this job over to some guy he just met, no matter how sterling his resume. The question is whether Steele would leave Clemson after only one season.
Given his generally itinerant career, I don't know that this a problem, assuming the money's right. Steele does have a 3 year deal at Clemson which pays him $375,000 a year. I think that's low considering Steele's experience and track record. I expect that Clemson AD Terry Don Phillips is aware of this. If Clemson stifles Georgia Tech's option offense in the ACC Championship Game the way they did in the second half of the teams' regular season meeting and the Country Gentlemen end up in the BCS, I suspect Terry Don will have to pay a helluva lot more than ten a year to keep him. We'll be only one of several suitors, I'm sure. Likelihood: 6
Of course, not every name out there is one I'd be pleased with. For example:
Jon Tenuta: No. No. No. A thousand times no. Tenuta's Georgia Tech defenses never seemed to perform up to billing against Georgia. His Notre Dame defense this season was the epitome of soft. My grandmother could have picked up 4 yards on the fullback dive against those guys. Tenuta's is just about the only name that could cause me to react violently if it issued from Mark Richt's lips. Please, no.
Sly Croom: I know, many of you are on the Croom team. But hear me out. Croom has no experience as a defensive coordinator, and hasn't coached exclusively on the defensive side of the ball since 1986. While I admire him, I think he's just too risky a hire.
Ellis Johnson: Assistant Head Coach at South Carolina.You may remember Johnson as the defensive coordinator for Croom at Mississippi State, who then left for Arkansas, where he stayed for about 20 minutes before taking over as South Carolina's defensive coordinator when Brian Van Gorder left Columbia without coaching a game. Johnson is a South Carolina native and another old school SEC guy. While he's apparently esteemed by his colleagues, I'm not impressed by his results. Johnson has been a defensive coordinator in the SEC for the past 6 seasons. None of those units has finished in the top 4 in total defense in the conference. Even Willie Martinez coordinated 2 units which accomplished that. Obviously Johnson would have more talent to work with in Athens than he did under Croom at Missy State. But our defensive talent isn't that much better than South Carolina's. Frankly I think we can do better.
And some names are a little off the radar, but intriguing, like:
Manny Diaz: Defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State. Never heard of him? You will. He played at Florida State, graduating in 1995, then served a year as a graduate assistant for the 'Noles after a brief term working for ESPN. He served a stint as safeties, inside linebackers and special teams coach for Chesty Chuck Amato at NC State from 2002-2005. He's recruited Georgia, especially Cobb County, and has worked with a lot of Georgia guys including Dublin's Erik Walden and Augustan J.K. Sabb. He's also recruited south Florida, which kind of makes sense since his dad just completed his stint as the Mayor of Miami. Seriously.
While Diaz has a biography that sounds a little like an internet hoax, he's also proven to be a pretty good young coach. MTSU led the Sun Belt Conference in team defense in 2009 after finishing 3rd in 2008 and 5th in 2007. In other words, they've improved every year under Diaz's direction. The 2009 Blue Raider defense also had 17 interceptions, a number which Willie Martinez simply wouldn't recognize, since our defense hasn't had that many picks since 2006.
Keep speculating gang. Until later . . .