With Richt out, UGA’s next step is to get Smart

Kirby Smart and Nick Saban, calling the shots.

As difficult as parting with a beloved coach is, it’s only Step 1. Step 2 is finding someone better, and it’s the more treacherous step by far. Ask Texas. Ask Tennessee. To be better than Mark Richt was at Georgia, the next guy will have to win a national championship. No pressure, then.

Every big-time program that deposes an incumbent always thinks it can hire the hottest guy in the country, and almost none of them do. Sometimes the hottest guy, after a change of venue, turns lukewarm. (Remember Gary Barnett?) There’s immense risk in what Greg McGarity is doing, but by nature he’s a risk-averse guy.

Meaning: If Georgia’s athletic director didn’t have reason to believe he could find someone capable of winning bigger than Richt, he wouldn’t have fired him. Surely McGarity, even as he has maintained his “sole focus is getting ready for (name of next opponent here),” has done his due diligence. I have to think his target is Kirby Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator.

I know, I know. The Will Muschamp parallel is daunting. Both Smart and Muschamp are coaches’ sons. Both played at Georgia under Ray Goff. (Smart also played under Jim Donnan.) Both worked for Nick Saban as coordinators. Muschamp wasn’t a head coach until he took the Florida job, and it showed. Smart hasn’t been a head coach. But to say Smart will fail because Muschamp did is to ignore the differences in human beings. Smart might be better suited to being a head coach than Muschamp, same as career assistant Richt was better suited than career assistant Goff.

Ideally, you’d like to hire someone who has done the job he’s being hired to do. It would be dandy if Georgia could pry Mark Dantonio from Michigan State, but is a 59-year-old apt to leave a team that could spend December readying for the College Football Playoff? Chip Kelly is a buzzy name, but he’s also the guy who left Oregon in the NCAA lurch and whose show-cause penalty expired less than a year ago. I wouldn’t touch him.

Tom Herman of Houston? Like him a lot. Between former Urban Meyer assistants, I’d take Herman over Dan Mullen of Mississippi State. (It speaks volumes that Jeremy Foley — McGarity’s former boss — never took a run at Mullen, who’d been part of a Florida BCS title, in either 2010 or last year.) And Herman is an offensive coach, which is generally preferable to prospective employers. But he hasn’t coached in the South, unless you count Texas, though he did recruit Georgia for Ohio State.

(No, neither Saban nor Meyer coached in the South until they started winning BCS titles at SEC schools. But they are, to borrow from soccer’s Jose Mourinho on Jose Mourinho, special ones.)

I don’t pretend to know Smart well, but I’ve been around him a bit. I know he’s impassioned in that Saban way without being quite so ferocious. (Unlike Muschamp, who’s kind of nuts but who could tag along to run Smart’s defense.) Nobody who works for Saban is ever unprepared. Everyone who works for Saban worships at the altar of recruiting. Smart is 39, the same age as Muschamp when he took over at Florida, but it’s a settled 39. He’s as ready as he’ll ever be. If you’ve been at Alabama for nine seasons, nothing about Georgia will seem too big.

McGarity worked under Foley and Vince Dooley, two of the best in the business. I’m certain this AD’s figurative ducks were in a row long before Sunday morning. I can’t imagine McGarity went home after the Georgia Tech game mulling what to do with Richt. I’m convinced he has known since that awful loss to Florida on Halloween, and I’m betting he had his Step 2 in mind almost as long. And surely nobody who works in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall is unaware that South Carolina is likewise high on Smart. If you don’t hire him, you might wind up losing to him. Double whammy.

I wasn’t surprised Mark Richt was fired Sunday. (If it was going to happen, it had to happen fast.) I will be very surprised if Kirby Smart isn’t introduced as Georgia’s coach two days after Alabama wins another SEC title. And I can’t imagine too many Bulldogs would be displeased.

 

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