As Georgia fans watch Kirby Smart guide Alabama’s defense in the Cotton Bowl, inevitably they will wonder who will be in that role for Smart once he arrives fully at Georgia.
It’s the main job yet to be filled by Smart, who has an offensive coordinator (Jim Chaney), offensive line coach (Sam Pittman) and three defensive assistants (Tracy Rocker, Kevin Sherrer and Glenn Schumann) who just need to know who will be calling the shots.
This might have already been done had South Carolina gone another way with its head coaching selection: Will Muschamp would have been a likely choice to join his old friend in Athens.
Smart is due to arrive in Jacksonville either Friday or Saturday in time to watch his new team face Penn State. How quickly after that he names a defensive coordinator is unclear, but here are the names to watch:
Tosh Lupoi, Alabama outside linebackers coach
Lupoi has only been at Alabama a year, and he’s only 34, but that only tells part of the story.
He has been in college coaching since he was hired as a 26-year-old assistant coach at California. Eventually Lupoi ended up at Washington as defensive line coach, where in 2010 he was named the national Recruiter of the Year by Rivals.com. Then a couple years ago Lupoi’s career hit a temporary speed bump.
Although he was eventually cleared, Lupoi was the subject of a six-week NCAA investigation into whether he paid for a recruit’s tutoring. Lupoi was not retained by new Washington head coach Chris Peterson, and eventually accepted a mutual separation from the school that paid him $300,000, according to the Seattle Times.
Nick Saban quickly swooped in and hired Lupoi as an “analyst”, then promoted him to an on-field role for this season.
Let’s play conspiracy theorist, college football coaching style. It was decided before Georgia’s bowl practice that Sherrer would move over from outside linebackers, which he coached the past two years, to inside linebackers. Was that to get ready for Lupoi’s arrival?
Georgia coaches said it was because of the way its current staff shook out. But you never know.
Mel Tucker, Alabama defensive backs coach
Let’s play more conspiracy theorist. Jeremy Pruitt, who was hired as Smart’s replacement at Alabama, is a secondary coach by trade, as is Tucker. What would he coach at Alabama unless he and Tucker are about to trade jobs?
Tucker is also in his first year in Tuscaloosa, but he’s had an even longer career than Lupoi, and has been a defensive coordinator before – and a level up.
Tucker was a defensive coordinator in the NFL from 2008-14, at three different stops, most recently the Chicago Bears. But while he did lead the Jacksonville Jaguars to one strong defensive season (sixth-best in the league in yards allowed in 2011) the last three seasons were a struggle. The Jaguars and then the Bears for two seasons ranked 30th under Tucker from 2012-14. The Bears then let Tucker go, and Saban hired him.
Here’s a good write-up on Tucker earlier this year from Michael Casagrande of AL.com.
Kevin Sherrer, Georgia linebackers coach
Lupoi and Tucker have the benefit of working with Smart this past year. Sherrer has known him for longer, and he also has deeper ties to the region, and obviously knows the personnel at Georgia.
Sherrer was at Alabama earlier this decade in a player development role, and as a high school coach in that state got to know Smart on the recruiting trail. Unlike Lupoi, Sherrer also has defensive coordinator experience, albeit for just one year (2013) at South Alabama. And Sherrer will be serving as Georgia’s defensive coordinator in the bowl game. If it goes well, giving Sherrer the job permanently would be an easy solution for Smart.
Of course, the fact an announcement has already been made that Sherrer is being retained, but no announcement has come on defensive coordinator, means Smart is still thinking it over.
Yes, Smart told our colleague Jeff Schultz earlier this week that serving as his own coordinator “has crossed my mind.” It’s just not his preference, and will depend on how things shake out.
“It’s all going to be dictated by who I’m able to contact and talk to,” Smart said. “But it’s obviously a big responsibility. It’s not something I want to put on my plate. But if I don’t find the right guy, then it might come to that.”
Todd Grantham, Louisville defensive coordinator
He’s another Nick Saban discipline, he has a Georgia connection … oh never mind, it’s impossible to finish this sentence without laughing.
Wild card: NFL assistant coach
No names to throw your way here, but the NFL regular season ends this weekend, which means some people will be available. Smart has some contacts at that level, having served as the Miami Dolphins’ safeties coach in 2006 under Saban.
Wild card: College assistant coach
Notice the quote from Smart above: “It’s all going to be dictated by who I’m able to contact and talk to.” Taken at face value, that meant that as of Monday, Smart was still waiting to talk to some people, and that could mean some guys who have still had important games to coach this week.
Or Smart could really just be waiting for Alabama to be done so he can bring Lupoi or Tucker with him. We shall find out soon. Maybe.