ATHENS – Barring a last-minute snag in negotiations, Alabama’s Kirby Smart will become Georgia’s new football coach. An announcement could come as soon as Sunday or Monday.
Smart, 39, is the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator. He worked at Alabama for the last nine years, helping it win three national championships. The No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide will face Florida in the SEC Championship game on Saturday. It won’t be until after Smart fulfills his duties in that game that an announcement could be made, persons familiar with the negotiation told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Smart will bring in his own staff but is expected to retain some members of Georgia’s current staff, including running backs coach Thomas Brown and recruiting coordinator/wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon. What other coaches he brings is not immediately known but it will be of his choosing.
Smart became the highest paid defensive coordinator in the country this past June when he received a $150,000 a year raise to $1.5 million. He has three years left in a four-year deal.
Mark Richt made $4.1 million a year as Georgia’s head coach.
Smart is considered a healing choice for the Bulldogs. Georgia’s fan base has been divided since Sunday, when Athletic Director Greg McGarity fired Richt after 15 years. Richt was the fifth-winningest active coach in Division I football and had won an average of 9.6 games a season as Georgia’s coach.
Smart is one of the Bulldogs’ own. A native of Bainbridge, he played safety for the Bulldogs from 1995-98 and served as a team captain his senior season. He coached running backs for Richt in 2005 and also has worked at Valdosta State, LSU and for the Miami Dolphins.
At Alabama, Smart was considered Nick Saban’s right-hand man, both as a defensive coach and as a recruiter. Smart’s territory has always been Georgia, and he harvested the area to great effect for some of the nation’s best football prospects.
The Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech 13-7 this past Saturday to end the regular season 9-3. The four-game winning streak was not enough to save Richt’s job, which by all indications was decided after the team’s loss to Florida. McGarity called Richt on Saturday night and asked to meet the next morning, where he delivered the news.
While the turnaround from the firing to the hiring is officially short — Sunday night to Tuesday evening, perhaps earlier — the decision had long been in the works, several sources said. In fact, South Carolina’s interest in Smart may have hastened the decision to move on Richt.
If Alabama wins on Saturday, it will almost certainly be in the national playoff, which means Smart would stay with the Crimson Tide another month. However he could serve in both jobs, recruiting and putting together his staff at Georgia while also preparing Alabama’s defense for a championship run.
Richt is still supposed to coach one more game at Georgia, in the yet-to-be-determined bowl. However he interviewed for the vacant head coaching job at Miami on Tuesday, and will do the same later this week at Virginia, according to ESPN. The expectation by many around Richt is that he will sit out this year, but he’s obviously listening intently.
So while these major coaching changes are happening, both programs and men will remain temporarily in their soon-to-be-former jobs.
Staff writer Seth Emerson contributed to this report.
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