ATHENS — In a few hours, Kirby Smart will coach Alabama’s defense in Saturday’s SEC championship. Once that game ends, things should start moving publicly, though certainly there have been things going on behind the scenes for awhile.
Smart should be introduced at Georgia, barring a snag, as soon as possible. It’s in Georgia and Smart’s best interests to do so because this year the NCAA-mandated recruiting period goes “dead” – as in no more recruiting – on Dec. 14, lasting until Jan. 13. So any day, or really any hour, that goes by without Smart officially at the helm means valuable time lost recruiting for Georgia.
It’s also not been resolved yet, or at least announced, whether Smart will continue to coach Alabama’s defense through the end of the season – the national playoff or a bowl – or take over at Georgia full-time. Expect that to be announced shortly after his official hiring as well.
The only thing that could delay an official announcement is a snag in the deal between Smart and Georgia. That wouldn’t just mean his actual salary and the length of the contract, but other matters: Salaries for his assistants, which assistants they will be and how much autonomy there will be, recruiting budget, etc.
If there’s a swift announcement after Saturday’s game, then it will be clear there was no major snag. If not, then it will be worth watching.
Meanwhile, Smart has nine full-time assistant coaches to hire, not to mention support staff, including strength and conditioning. Because of the SEC championship there hasn’t been a tremendous amount new to report in that area. And while Mark Richt’s hiring at Miami means his former assistants now have another obvious option, Richt indicated he wouldn’t be rushing into any decisions.
Based on speaking with various people close to the situation, here’s what can be said right now:
- The defensive coordinator spot still depends on whether Will Muschamp is hired as South Carolina’s head coach. If not, then the Muschamp-to-Georgia watch is on. Not only were he and Smart teammates at Georgia for one year, but they served on the same coaching staff twice (Valdosta State and then LSU.)
- What if Muschamp isn’t available? (He could also replace Smart at Alabama.) Then Jeremy Pruitt is still in play to stay in the job at Georgia. He continues to recruit, as does pretty much the rest of the staff, despite their uncertain status. Smart could also look outside, or even elevate Kevin Sherrer, who spent the past two years as Georgia’s outside linebackers coach, but prior to that was South Alabama’s defensive coordinator for the year.
- As for the rest of the defensive staff, inside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler is almost certainly headed elsewhere. He’s had interest from several other programs. Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker remains a strong candidate to be retained by Smart, but Florida defensive line coach Chris Rumph could also be targeted.
- On the offensive side, receivers coach Bryan McClendon’s chances of being retained are high, as are running back coach Thomas Brown’s. The fact McClendon was given the interim coach tag speaks to the respect he has by Georgia’s administration, and the move was lauded by several current and former staffers who were asked about it. Of course if for some reason either isn’t retained they could be on a plane to Coral Gables, Fla., very quickly.
- And no, Hines Ward won’t be joining the staff unless he changes his mind on the grind that comes with coaching. When you have as many opportunities as Ward has off the field that would be a big sacrifice.
- The offensive coordinator job is still wide open, at least publicly. Alabama receivers coach Billy Napier and Western Kentucky co-offensive coordinator Tyson Helton were mentioned early, and ESPN’s Mark Schlabach on Saturday said Cincinnati offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.
- Offensive line coach Rob Sale is still out on the road recruiting. It’s not clear what kind of chance he has to be retained, but he’s still working hard.
- John Lilly, the tight ends coach and co-special teams coach, would seem the most likely candidate to follow Richt to Miami. That hasn’t been finalized yet, however.
- Alabama strength and conditioning coordinator Scott Cochran, who is close with Smart, is still a prime candidate to come with him to Athens. But Cochran also likes being at Alabama and Nick Saban could still have a say in things.
- Finally, this move impacts dozens of other staff members and their families. They may not generate big headlines but this is an uncertain time for them, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.