ATHENS — It’s at this point that we now remind you that Georgia’s bowl practice begins on Wednesday. And by you that also means players, coaches and other staff members, who understandably might have forgotten amidst all this that there is still one game left to be played
Georgia is actually still favored in that game, by the way, by a touchdown over Penn State, which itself is going through a transition: The Nittany Lions replaced their offensive coordinator after the season, and thus the play-calling duties in the Taxslayer Bowl goes to their quarterbacks coach.
But that’s a rock of stability compared to Georgia, which will be without the people who during the regular season served as:
- Head coach (Mark Richt, now at Miami, in case you were unaware)
- Defensive coordinator (Jeremy Pruitt, now back home at Alabama, supposedly sharing an office with Kirby Smart.)
- Offensive coordinator (Brian Schottenheimer, whereabouts unknown)
- Inside linebackers coach (Mike Ekeler, who is close to accepting another coaching job at an unspecified school)
Georgia’s other six 2015 coaches are expected to be back at practice on Wednesday, several in new roles. Receivers coach Bryan McClendon will also be in the interim head coach, tight ends coach John Lilly will also be the offensive coordinator, and outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer will also be the defensive coordinator.
Rob Sale, the offensive line coach, confirmed on Tuesday morning that he will remain through the bowl, despite his replacement (Sam Pittman) being hired. Running backs coach Thomas Brown is expected to be retained by Smart so he’ll obviously still be there. Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker appears less likely to be retained, but there’s been no indication yet that he won’t be at practice. (Rocker did not return a message on Tuesday.)
So assuming no further attrition (a risky assumption until we see everyone’s scowling faces at Wednesday’s practice) then Georgia has to find somebody to coach:
- Defensive backs
- Inside linebackers
Who will that be? McClendon will probably confirm that on Wednesday. In the past the team has elevated graduate assistants, but a team spokesman reported Tuesday that the field of candidates is not limited to GAs:
“Can be anyone we designate so could be G.A., quality control analyst, or maybe even you,” the spokesman said.
Unfortunately this reporter was a tight end in high school, so with Lilly still around we will not trade in our notepad for a whistle.
The incoming coaches will be around: Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jim Chaney, Pittman, and defensive assistant Glenn Schumann.
Smart has said they will be around and watching at least some at practice. But it doesn’t seem likely that they will actually do any coaching, based on what Smart said and indications from around the program. That’s for a variety of reasons, including that they don’t know the players yet as well as the graduate assistants and others who have been around the team all year. So unless Smart really wants those guys to get a head start, the bowl coaching duties will fall to current staffers.
The secondary has some obvious candidates:
Todd Hartley, the team’s recruiting director, has done it before: He was the interim secondary coach after the 2009 season, following the dismissal of Willie Martinez. Hartley was a graduate assistant at the time.
Sam Petitto was defensive backs coach at Grambling State from 2004-05 and the safeties coach at Southeastern Louisiana from 2001-03. Kelin Johnson, the former Georgia defensive back, has been on the strength staff after serving as a GA. George Helow, a quality control assistant, also has a background in the secondary. Pruitt had actually built up a small army of defensive quality control helpers, so there’s plenty to choose from, assuming they haven’t already followed him to Tuscaloosa.
Hartley has a variety of experience on both sides of the ball: Safeties coach at Marshall from 2011-12, tight ends coach there in 2013, and offensive quality control coach at West Virginia for a year before that. The only issue with Hartley is whether they would want him to concentrate on his recruiting responsibilities, especially with Smart still in Tuscaloosa.
The quarterback coaching job has a candidate in graduate assistant Steve Shimko, who played quarterback at Rutgers from 2008-11. He’s worked closely with the quarterbacks this season. Here’s more about Shimko’s experience at Rutgers, where he struggled with injuries.