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It's been more than a month since Georgia head coach Mark Richt fired former defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, and finding a replacement has been more of a challenge than Richt probably envisioned. Three big-name coordinators have flirted with Georgia, only to re-sign with their current employers. The Bulldogs have already pursued Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster and LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, both of whom received substantial raises from their current employers as a result of the flirtation.
The latest candidate to turn down Georgia's overtures was former Bulldog player and current Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. Smart has long been the object of the affection of the Georgia fan base. Since Richt seemed to be taking his time finding a replacement, it was widely assumed that Smart was at or near the top of Georgia's list. Richt did the honorable thing and waited until after Alabama played in the BCS National Championship Game seriously pursue Smart. That plan certainly blew up in his face.
According to some Georgia insiders, including former Bulldog defensive end and current Atlanta radio host David Pollack, Smart went so far as to sign a term sheet with the Bulldogs. The deal has been rumored to be north of $700,000 per year for either three or four years – roughly double what Smart made last season with the Crimson Tide. According to the The Birmingham News, Smart's decision to stay at Alabama is based more on professional considerations rather than money.
Translation – staying at Alabama gives Smart a shot at a head coaching job faster than taking over Georgia's defense. That's not just burning your bridge, that's taking a blow torch to it.
Bravo Georgia for shooting for the stars, but there comes a time when the higher you reach, the harder you fall. That's exactly where Georgia finds itself after being rejected by Smart. In college football, perception equals reality. The overwhelming perception of the Georgia program following the flirtation with Foster, Chavis and Smart is that Georgia is desperate, and knows that they have to make a splash.
All of this comes at a very bad time for Mark Richt. He's not on as hot of a hot seat as LSU head coach Les Miles, but another seven-win regular season could make things very interesting in Athens.
I've compared this off-season for Richt to what former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville went through following the 2007 season. Tuberville had to turn his offense around quickly, following several years of diminishing numbers. The result was the hiring of Tony Franklin to run the offense. That experiment failed, Franklin was fired mid-season, and Tuberville's time at Auburn ended shortly thereafter.
So where do the Bulldogs go now? The name that's been floating around the periphery since Martinez was fired is current Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Todd Grantham. Grantham has been with the Cowboys for two years. Big problem though, Grantham's a little tied up right now with the NFL Playoffs. What if – and I know how crazy this sounds – what if the Cowboys make it all the way to the Super Bowl? The Super Bowl is the Sunday AFTER National Signing Day. You mean to tell me that Georgia might go all the way past Signing Day without a defensive coordinator? Yikes.
Richt has swung for the fences three times, and whiffed on all three swings. If he winds up with a seeing-eye single, will that be enough to turn around the Bulldog defense? That remains to be seen. But it certainly won't make the splash that Bulldog Nation hoped for.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/BSallee_CFN
Off-Season Column Archive:
Georgia's DC Debacle – January 12, 2010
SEC Bloggers: Do Over – January 8, 2010
Trouble In Baton Rouge – January 2, 2010
Meyer Calls A Reverse – December 27, 2009
Urban Meyer's SEC Legacy – December 26, 2009
End Of The Season Accountability – December 26, 2009
Ranking The SEC Bowl Games – December 18, 2009
2009 SEC Superlatives – December 13, 2009
Click here for the 2009 Regular Season Three & Out archive