ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart isn’t expected to move too fast on filling the Bulldogs’ vacancy for a defensive coordinator, and with good reason.
This is Smart’s first time having to replace a coordinator hire since taking over as Georgia’s head coach before the 2016 season, and it presents a different sort of challenge that few heads coaches have proven they can handle with consistent success.
Coaching staff continuity is most often one of the most important factors to a program’s sustained success.
Former Georgia defensive coordinator and secondary coach Mel Tucker, who was hired as Colorado’s head coach on Wednesday, will indeed be very difficult to replace.
Smart and Tucker developed former 3-star prospect Deandre Baker into a Thorpe Award winner and built a secondary that slowed a historically successful Alabama pass attack last Saturday.
Tide coach Nick Saban provided some insight into how he has been so successful maintaining success even while having to replace coordinators almost annually.
“I think that you love continuity on your staff, but I always look at this as a challenge and an opportunity to add new energy, new enthusiasm, new ideas to your staff,” Saban said Thursday night in Atlanta.
“We don’t change our program. We don’t hire people to come in and be independent contractors and do what they want to do. They sort of have to buy into what we do, but the new ideas, the new energy and enthusiasm that they bring is always very helpful to improving our program.”
Smart had a front row to that sort of philosophy while coaching at Saban’s side for 11 years at LSU, with the Miami Dolphins and at Alabama from 2007-15. Smart helped the Tide coaching legend develop the program through a time of several coaching and staff hires.
The Bulldogs’ program has its own unique personality in several respects, but there are aspects of the framework that are similar to what Smart helped Saban build at Alabama.
Georgia appears on the verge of creating its own dynasty with 68 percent of its roster freshmen and sophomores this past season.
Smart and his program beat two of the four current CFB Playoff teams head-to-head last season (Oklahoma and Notre Dame) and led or were tied with defending national champ and current No. 1-ranked Alabama for 281 of the 290 plays in the past two games with the Tide in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Indeed, the Bulldogs narrowly missed the CFB Playoff despite having to replace several key pieces from last season’s CFB Championship Game runner-up squad.
So the defensive coordinator/secondary coach hire is as big of a decision as Smart has faced.
“You know, I always say there’s a lot of books written about how to be successful,” Saban said. “There’s not many written on how to stay successful.”
Smart has indicated that he might be inclined to promote from within if not hire a coach he’s already familiar with, though he’ll likely conduct a national search before deciding anything.
“I think continuity is critical to recruiting success, (and) I know that the recruiting success that I’ve had as an assistant coach was because I was able to have the same area for a long time, you build relationships, you know people, you get to know them,” Smart said last November. “When you jump around from job to job, sometime’s that’s hard to do. I think our university and our support structure here has done a great job of helping us keep our coaches who are really good assets.
“I mean, let’s be honest, we recruit well because of the assistant coaches we have. When you recruit well and get good young men in here, you can have a successful program. I think continuity is important, but I do think change is inevitable. It’ll happen. It’s happened to us every year.”