UGA’s football support staff grows under Kirby Smart

Georgia coach Kirby Smart

ATHENS – Georgia may have some depth issues at tailback and on the defensive line, but the Bulldogs have plenty of depth when it comes to support of the football team.

Georgia’s football support staff expanded considerably during the final years of coach Mark Richt’s administration, and it has continued to grow under new coach Kirby Smart.

According to personnel records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, there are now more than 40 individuals directly involved with full-time support of the football program. The number increases sharply from there when positions that have indirect involvement are included.

And it likely will increase. Smart has said he may continue to hire support personnel depending on whether he identifies a need he hasn’t already anticipated.

“The support staff is a continual process,” Smart said. “It’s not something that’s just, ‘all right we’re going to be done by this date.’ … We have more support staff to hire. That’s kind of next on the agenda.”

Smart has established several new positions already. Mike Cavan, a former head coach at SMU and longtime assistant under Vince Dooley, is now “special assistant to the head coach.” Cavan worked in development and fundraising before.

Smart also recently hired “senior graphics designer,” there is a “director of player wellness” and an “assistant director of football operations.” That’s at least four positions Georgia employs now that it didn’t previously.

Officially, UGA counts 37 individuals among its football support staff, including the 10 members of the coaching staff. However, that does not include several people whose jobs extend beyond the football program into other areas of the athletic association.

For instance, Ron Courson is Georgia’s director of sports medicine by title, and his duties expand beyond football. But his office is in the football training room at the Butts-Mehre Football Complex, and he oversees every aspect of injury treatment and rehabilitation for the football team.

Also, there are people like Sidney Smith, who is listed only as a “sports nutritionist” in the UGA Athletic Association directory and does not have a biography included on the school’s website. But she is fully dedicated to supporting the football team. Smith describes her occupation on her personal Twitter profile as “director of UGA football performance nutrition” and posts nutritional advice there daily, along with pictures of the meals and snacks she is preparing for the football players to help with their training and recovery.

Georgia lists 50 individuals under “football staff” in its 2015 media guide. That includes Courson, three other assistant athletic trainers, two interns, two unpaid chaplains and a grounds supervisor.

The list will be longer in the 2016 guide, as has been the trend the last three or four years.

“You saw a change in our numbers around 2013-14,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said. “We had some turnover in our coaching staff. We had some new staff members coming on that saw various needs that we hadn’t seen before. That brought about a level of support that had not been seen before on campus. Mark made those recommendations and we got it done.”

According to documentation provided in compliance to a Freedom of Information Act request, UGA is spending about $5.6 million annually on football support personnel. That’s up from $5.2 million a year ago and comes after losing two significant positions the last two years.

John Eason, who was director of player development, and Dave Van Halanger, who was director of player welfare, have retired. They earned $356,479 a year between them. But Smart quickly wiped that out between internal promotions and external hires.

  • Former Bulldog and NFL player Jonas Jennings was promoted from player relations coordinator under Richt to director of player development under Smart. That position came with a salary of $211,500, which meant a $136,500 raise for Jennings. McGarity characterized that as a “competitive counter.”
  • Bryant Gantt, who was listed as a program coordinator II under Richt, was named director of player wellness by Smart. He received a pay increase of $41,000 to $125,000 per year. He was making $58,000 two years ago.
  • Josh Lee remained director of football operations for Georgia, but he got a $55,000-a-year bump in pay to do so and now makes $180,000. Plus, he now has an assistant director. Brad Hutcherson made $65,000 to do the job by himself two years ago.
  • Similarly, Marshall Malchow recently was hired from Washington as Georgia’s director of on-campus recruiting at $180,000 a year. That’s $70,000 more than Daryl Jones made in the same role two years before.

Of course, Smart comes to Georgia from Alabama, where Nick Saban took support staffing to a new level.

Large football support staffs have been utilized for years in pro football, with NFL teams employing as many “analysts” and “quality-control specialists” as they like for off-the-field preparation for opponents and evaluating personnel. In 2007, Saban brought that concept with him from the Miami Dolphins to Alabama.

The NCAA restricts support staff members from coaching players on the field, but otherwise hasn’t limited the number that programs can employ. They assist by organizing recruiting efforts, breaking down game and practice video, overseeing travel operations, serving as mentors for players and even monitoring what they drink and eat.

Saban spoke extensively about the necessity of support staffs at the College Football Playoff championship in Phoenix in January.

“We love it that we can have some extra guys around that are young guys that aspire to be coaches,” he said. “I think one of the most difficult things about our profession is, how do you get experience so that you can grow and develop as a coach? The fact that we can have a few extra guys now to be analysts, to break down film, to do quality-control-type work, that is beneficial to some guys that can move on to maybe become graduate assistants and get on the field and get some coaching experience.”

There is evidence of a path being worn from the quality-control office to the football field. Former Georgia and current Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt began at Alabama as a defensive quality-control specialist in 2007. Todd Hartley just left UGA as director of recruiting to become Richt’s tight ends coach and special teams coordinator at Miami.

Smart brought Glenn Schumann with him to Georgia from Alabama, where Schumann was a defensive analyst for four years. Likewise, Dell McGee left his job as head coach at Carver-Columbus High to become an offensive quality-control specialist at Auburn. He joined Georgia Southern’s staff as a full-time assistant for two years before Smart hired him as the Bulldogs’ running backs coach in January.

“I think it’s a great thing for our profession to be able to develop coaches,” Saban said. “And I think those guys have now created a role and a niche for themselves that’s every important to every program, because we all depend on them.”

Obviously there’s a lot of money pouring into college football at the moment, particularly in the SEC. Thanks in large part to the success of the SEC Network, each of the 14 league members received a check for more than $31 million last year.

That said, these staffs can’t continually expand. There is a growing movement afoot to stem the tide of spending in this particular arena. The SEC introduced a legislative proposal last year to govern the size of support staffs, but it didn’t gain national support.

“We continue to have conversations about the proliferation (of) staff size,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey told CBSSports.com. “Where’s the end of proliferating staff size?”

McGarity was attending a meeting of NCAA leaders in Chicago on Monday and said it continues to be an area of discussion there. But he said he doesn’t see Georgia’s recent staff expansion as an extravagance.

“It’s not, ‘School A has 40; I have to have 40,’” McGarity said. “That’s just not how we operate. Each step of the way, there has to be a justification on their role. Tell me the justification, what they’re gonna do. If we all agree on it, we get it done. Now that I’ve been able to see what these people, I see what they do on recruiting weekends, I see how valuable they are to our operation.

“And as long as they’re important to Kirby, they’re going to be important to me.”

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