Greg McGarity talked Monday about enlisting the services of a search firm to assist him and Georgia on their national search for a football coach to succeed Mark Richt. But if the Bulldogs get who they want, this will be neither a long nor expensive process.
People with knowledge of the proceedings confirmed again Monday that Kirby Smart is the program’s No. 1 target. The only way the Alabama defensive coordinator doesn’t get the job is if he turns it down.
That does not seem likely. Smart, who has been with the Crimson Tide for nine seasons, the last eight as coordinator, is among the hottest candidates in the country to fill a head coach vacancy this year. There are currently 14 FBS openings nationwide, and Smart’s name has mentioned prominently for several of them, notably South Carolina’s. But Georgia’s is considered the top job among all the vacancies, solidified by Monday’s news that Clay Helton will become Southern Cal’s permanent head coach.
Meanwhile, Smart was approved in June for a new four-year contract that included a $150,000 raise to $1.5 million a year. That made him the highest paid defensive coordinator in the country. And while there is a moderate buyout clause included — reportedly in the range of $500,000 — it is not expected to be problematic for Georgia, which has more than $70 million in its reserve fund.
Should Smart and Georgia agree to terms, he could be hired as soon as Monday. But the next issue will be when he could actually start.
Alabama is ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings and will play Florida in the 2015 SEC Championship Game this Saturday in the Georgia Dome. Should the heavily-favored Crimson Tide (11-1) win that game, they’ll be in the College Football Playoff. The national championship game will not be played until Jan. 11 in Phoenix.
Alabama coach Nick Saban has said he prefers his coaches follow the model of Jim McElwain when it comes to leaving the Tide for a head coaching position. When McElwain left to accept the Colorado State job in 2010, he stayed on with Bama to coach and game-plan on a daily basis while flying back and forth to Fort Collins, Colo., and recruiting for the Rams whenever and however he could. But he remained through the championship game.
That’s considered standard protocol in the coaching ranks. Richt followed the same script when Georgia hired him from FSU in December of 2000. Richt served as coordinator for the Seminoles for their BCS championship game against Oklahoma, a game they lost 13-2.
As for the Bulldogs’ current defensive coordinator, there is a lot of sentiment among fans for him to be retained. That’s not likely to happen. Jeremy Pruitt has indicated to people close to him that he expects to move after the bowl game if he does not get another substantial offer before then.
Pruitt and Smart worked together on the defensive staff at Alabama from 2007-12 and could again at Georgia. But Pruitt would have to give up the autonomy he had running the defense for Richt, who has an offensive background. A more likely scenario is that Pruitt would return to Alabama and succeed Smart as the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator.
Meanwhile, there remains strong sentiment among Pruitt’s players at Georgia for him to stay and for him to be considered for the head coaching job. The Bulldogs have the nation’s No. 1-ranked pass defense and are ninth in total defense.
But Pruitt’s relationship with the UGA athletic administration has not been smooth ever since his comments about the school’s lack of an indoor facility last year. Pruitt and McGarity were seen shaking hands on the Sanford Stadium field before the Georgia Southern game, but it was a brief and perfunctory handshake.
As for other potential head coaching candidates, Houston is making a concerted effort to keep Tom Herman in Southeast Texas. Herman told the Houston Chronicle he has “agreed in principle” on a new contract that will double his salary to more than $3 million. That’s notable because while Herman was offered a new deal recently, this was the first time he acknowledged it.
Of course Georgia would have the money to buy out even the new contract. But unless Smart doesn’t come, it appears it won’t have to come to that.
DawgNation.com’s Seth Emerson contributed to this report.
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