ATHENS – Georgia at least knew what it had in Mark Richt. Now the program heads into the wilderness, where the right coaching hire could finish the job that Richt couldn’t, but the wrong one will make fans yearn for the Richt era.

Since Vince Dooley stepped down, Georgia’s last three hires have been its own running backs coach (Ray Goff), a head coach at a Division I-AA school (Jim Donnan), and the offensive coordinator at Florida State (Richt.)

This time around, the thinking is Georgia can shoot higher, which is probably thanks to what Richt did for the program the past 15 years.  But athletics director Greg McGarity also enters a very competitive market this offseason, where Southern California, Virginia Tech and South Carolina  have been open, as well as nearly a dozen more programs.

Based on an educated guess, as well as a bit of insight from those around the program – though not McGarity himself – here are some candidates to watch at Georgia:

Kirby Smart: The Alabama defensive coordinator is an obvious candidate given his connections, and there is considerable sentiment among those close to McGarity to pursue Smart. He’s a former Georgia safety, he was an assistant under Richt in the mid-2000s, and he’s served under the tutelage of Nick Saban at Alabama the past eight years. The question is whether Georgia will take a gamble on someone who not only has no head coaching experience, but has also been running Saban’s defense.

Dan Mullen: The Mississippi State head coach also has the connection to McGarity, as the two were at Florida together during the Urban Meyer years. Mullen offers head coaching experience and a dynamic offense, although it may not be a fit for pro-style QB recruit Jacob Eason.

Tom Herman: The Houston head coach is 11-1 in his first season, after serving the previous two years under Meyer at Ohio State, where he was offensive coordinator. It’s unclear how much Meyer and McGarity still talk, but if they do Meyer could certainly provide a recommendation. Herman doesn’t really have any other connections to the SEC or the South, having served most his career in the Midwest.

Charlie Strong: The Texas head coach has been adamant that he’s staying, despite two rough seasons. Of course that’s been because Strong has mostly been linked to the Miami job. The Georgia job could be a different case, given Strong and McGarity also know each other from their Florida days. And when McGarity canceled a planned Georgia-Louisville series a few years ago, he was very complimentary of Strong, saying part of the reason he didn’t want to play the game early in the season was he knew Strong would have his team ready to play.

Justin Fuente, a potential candidate, is apparently off the table after reportedly being hired by Virginia Tech. And McGarity could look beyond this list, but all expectations are Smart will get a long look.


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