Georgia football DC Dan Lanning under pressure after Kirby Smart’s leap of faith
ATHENS — Kirby Smart ranks as one of the top defensive minds in college football, a fact that probably intrigued many of the NFL general managers the Georgia head football coach disclosed he met with this offseason.
File that one away, for now.
But in new Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, Smart believes he has hired himself a rising star in the coaching ranks.
Lanning is the sort that, if things go as expected, will be headed for a corner office sooner than later.
Lanning, who met only briefly with the media in the days leading up to the Sugar Bowl, was allowed to speak publicly on a recent UGA promotional video.
Smart, like his longtime mentor Alabama coach Nick Saban, is a big believer in dictating that only one voice come out of his program.
Smart allowed veteran coordinators Mel Tucker and Jim Chaney to talk to the media last fall.
It was a one-time shot that enabled the accomplished coaches to explain their philosophies and showcase the intellect and charisma that has made them so successful.
Lanning has all that, too, he’s just much younger (33 years old) and in a much hotter seat as a first-time SEC play-caller in what’s rightfully expected to be a championship season.
Lanning will make the calls on his headset, but Smart will have veto power from the sideline, like most other coaches.
And, working in Lanning’s favor, Smart is one to accept blame for all of his program’s shortcomings in defeat, even when it’s not his fault.
• A coordinator isn’t adequately prepared (see LSU game)
• A team leader set a poor tone (Sugar Bowl)
Smart took the blame at each turn, and he’ll take the blame if Lanning can’t get it done this season.
That, however, is not likely to happen.
Lanning has been a recruiting coordinator at three schools (Arizona State, Sam Houston State and Memphis), but never before a defensive coordinator.
So many were surprised Smart elected to stay in house and promote such a young and — relatively — unproven coach.
Current Tennessee defensive coordinator and former Oakland Raiders secondary coach Derrick Ansley was considered by some a front runner early in the process.
Others thought last season’s Alabama defensive coordinator, Tosh Lupoi, was on the call list for Smart before taking an assistant job with the Cleveland Browns.
Smart was mum throughout the lengthy defensive coordinator search process; Lanning’s hire was made without much fanfare or comment from the head coach.
Smart picks his spots to speak, and what was he going to say to make this hire look good to outsiders who don’t understand Lanning’s drive and potential?
Lanning will make $750,000 — half of what Tucker was making last year before taking the Colorado head coaching job last December after the SEC Championship Game.
Lanning’s debut in the Sugar Bowl was forgettable, though it’s hard to know how much of that had to do with a first-round NFL draft pick sitting out the game and the team’s sacks leader sidelined by an injury.
Whatever the cause, Texas sliced up Lanning’s sluggish Bulldog defense for 178 yards rushing and 355 total yards in a 28-21 win.
Chances are Lanning — whose legend includes a 13-hour overnight drive to talk coaches at Pitt into hiring him as a quality control coach in 2011 — will quickly vindicate himself this season.
Indeed, Smart made a statement by staying in house that he’s all in on Lanning.
Now, it’s up to Lanning to deliver the changes and teachings necessary in his linebacking corps to give Georgia the edge it needs to create havoc.
This Georgia defense is supposed to be more complex and aggressive than ever before, and a lot of that falls on Lanning to coordinate.
“I’ve always been a guy with that high competitive edge, and football is definitely one of those avenues that provide an opportunity to always compete,” Lanning said in the UGA video.
“It requires intelligence but it also requires great athleticism and physicality and that’s something that really drives me with the sport.
“I think early on I always wanted to be a coach dating all the way back to middle school, always liked the teaching aspect of football and the team effort it requires,” he said. “We have great players here at Georgia, and I always wanted to be in a place that had an opportunity to compete for championships.”
Lanning has that opportunity of a lifetime before him, and a program’s legacy riding on it.
Georgia DC Dan Lanning
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) July 29, 2019