The search for Georgia's next Defensive Coordinator went on behind closed doors. Neither I nor anyone not named Mark Richt seems to have known what criteria were being used to select the candidates.
But as time has gone on, names have come out and one man was ultimately chosen, the decision calculus has become clearer. The guys Coach Richt appears to have given the most attention had familiarity with the 3-4 defense, ties to one of two coaches whom Coach Richt has significant respect for (Frank Beamer and Nick Saban) and a fiery personality. Todd Grantham has all three. Let's take an indepth look at Georgia's new minister of defense, and what his hiring may mean for Bulldog football.
The Resume. What recommends Grantham for the job? All of the above. Plus significant NFL experience. Grantham served as the defensive line coach for the Indianapolis Colts from 1999 through 2001 and the Houston Texans from 2002 to 2004. He then moved up to the position of defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns from 2005 through 2007. Grantham was unceremoniously dumped after the 2007 season in the midst of what was rumored to be a power struggle with Coach Romeo Crennel. Some thought Grantham was angling for the Browns' head coaching position. Everyone knew their defense stunk.
That stint in Cleveland is really the black mark on Grantham's resume. In three seasons his defenses ranked 29th in total defense 3 years running, which is hardly a ringing endorsement on the face of things. RedCrake may have said it best: Cleveland seems to bring out the suck in otherwise phenomenal coaches. Perhaps internal tensions within the Browns organization may have contributed to some of that. Perhaps the Browns really do suck that bad, and Grantham just didn't have the mojo to turn the whole thing around all by himself. The NFL, perhaps more than college football, is about talent. Every coach in the NFL has the schematic chops. That's how they got into the league. As Mark Richt noted in this afternoon's teleconference, the NFL is the cutting edge of footballcraft. If one bad NFL experience is a disqualifier for collegiate success, somebody better tell Nick Saban, Pete Carroll and Butch Davis, among others. They apparently didn't get the memo.
The assistants. One rumor making the rounds had Kirby Smart bringing New Orleans Saints defensive line coach and former Bulldog Travis Jones with him, along with current Tennessee Volunteer linebackers coach Lance Thompson. The same totally unsubstantiated rumor now surrounds Grantham. If it is true, we should be ecstatic. Jones previously served as LSU's recruiting coordinator under Saban, and Thompson is a veteran guy known as both a great position coach and an effective recruiter (he currently recruits Georgia for the Volunteers, or at least he did before the great westward scruple migration of aught ten). Those three added to our current staff would create arguably the most proven set of effective recruiters in the country. More importantly, it would also be a group known for their intensity and attention to detail. That's exactly what we need in a defensive staff.
That being said, it appears that we won't really know anything on this for a few days. Coach Grantham said he hasn't even met Coach Garner yet. And if Coach Grantham ends up coaching the linebackers (as he indicated today) we may be looking at a defensive backs coach and a special teams coach. Truthfully, it's the position coaches that will be most responsible for making sure that the players know the gameplan and execute it every day. These upcoming hires will be just as critical as the Grantham appointment.
The scheme. Grantham will install an attacking 3-4 scheme similar to what Dallas (and Alabama) run. But that might be oversimplifying things. Chris Brown at Smart Football* has talked a good bit over the last couple of years about Nick Saban's defense, and his explanation is far better and more detailed than anything this post warrants. But in a nutshell, Saban's defense often uses a bigger linebacker who plays at the line and puts his hand down, just like a 4-3 defensive end. The distinction between "3-4" and "4-3" is more fluid than many realize. Even Willie Martinez occasionally employed a "3-3-5" look and, especially from 2008 on, often used a "4-2-5" look similar to Gary Patterson's TCU scheme, especially against spread offenses.
The defense Wade Phillips uses in Big D isn't very different from Saban's. Phillips, by the way, indicated today that he wasn't surprised by Grantham's new job, calling Grantham "grossly overqualified" to serve as an NFL position coach. The defense Grantham will install is a little different from some 3-4 schemes in that the front 3 play "one gap" assignments rather than "two gap." That is, those players will generally try to penetrate a specific gap and get into the backfield rather than simply drawing double and triple teams to allow the linebackers to run. But don't take my word for it. Grantham's description of his scheme is perhaps the best:
We'll be a 3-4 structure which basically means that in your base defense you'll have two outside backers, three d linemen, two inside backers and your secondary would be the same whether you're a 3-4 or a 4-3 with two safeties and two corners. But saying that, we're more of an aggressive style 3-4. We're going to play one-gap defense. We're going to attack block up front. We're going to rush the passer. Our outside backers are going to be what we call edge-setters. They're going to be aggressive. They're going to be coming. They're going to be solid setting the edge on the run but we're going to develop those guys as pass rushers. The inside backers, we're going to call them Mike and Moe, they'll be downhill guys to the ball. But in saying that, we're going to still be multiple and have the ability to match personnel, meaning that if someone adds a third wideout into the game, we can add an extra DB. We could end up playing multiple fronts out of that nickel package -- whether it be four down or three down and go that route.
Frankly, we could run a 1-1-9 or a 90210 or an L-M-N-O-P for all I care so long as guys are in the right places doing the right things once the ball is snapped. What our gameplan consists of is trivial. The key is a) that we have a gameplan and b) that we execute it.
Position Changes/Personnel. If we do switch to a base 3-4 team, there are some interesting implications. For one, several guys would likely see their roles change, in some cases for the better. A.J. Harmon for example had trouble cracking the lineup this year as a redshirt freshman offensive lineman. But to me he has 3-4 nose tackle written all over him. Ditto for rising redshirt freshman Kwame Geathers. Demarcus Dobbs and Brandon Wood were both 'tweeners in 2009, too small to play defensive tackle in the 4-3 and too slow to effectively play rush end. They could both be 3-4 defensive ends. Justin Houston looks a lot like the "jack" linebacker in a 3-4 system, a hybrid defensive end/linebacker whose job is to get into the backfield and create a defensive beachhead on the edge of the playing field. Darryl Gamble has the same look. Abry Jones could be a terror at end in the 3-4, but may be too valuable inside to be moved. This system, simply put, has the potential to put several linemen on our roster who just didn't quite fit in the 4-3 into much better positions.
At linebacker there are some questions. With Rennie Curran's jump to the NFL, we return 6-7 linebackers with game experience, several of whom are still pretty green. That means some young guys (Christian Robinson, Mike Gilliard, Chase Vasser) may have to step up and play. Using 4 linebackers rather than 3 means that we will end up playing more guys at that position. Richard Samuel could now work his way into the linebacker rotation at the Moe Linebacker spot, for example.
Recruiting. I expect that we may lose a couple of our defensive recruits who don't necessarily fit what Grantham's scheme is perceived to be. That said, this announcement gives our entire program a shot of momentum, and there may be some guys who liked UGA, but ended up committing somewhere else because of scheme or coaching issues. We could get back in it with those players, especially those receptive to the NFL-centered pitch outlined by David Hale. Having a guy with A decade of experience in the league tell guys he knows what it takes to get them there should have some ring of truth to it. Depending on how you do the math, we currently have from 16-19 commits. Coach Garner said a while back that he sees us taking as many as 25 commitments on Signing Day, which is now 3 weeks away. That means there could be some fireworks between now and then.
All in all, I think it's a great hire. But I'll be withholding judgment until I see some onfield results. Those of us who have maintained all along that this search was about the results not the process shouldn't change our tune now that the process has yielded a guy we can be excited about. Take a deep breath Bulldog fans. It's going to be quite the next few months. Until tomorrow . . .