For the past few weeks, I've been bombarded with inquiries from readers who want to know about likely candidates for the now vacant DC job, but I didn't want to go down that road until there was definitely an opening. And now I'm probably behind the curve on posting the possibilities. You can read a couple of very good recaps at Dawg Sports and on Dawg Post.
I'm also going to caution everyone: You'll hear a ton of rumors, but remember how many false starts there were with the hoops job just nine months ago. Rumors get spread for many reasons -- because people like to spread them or maybe an assistant is angling for more money so he gets his agent to throw his name out there or maybe there really is fire to go along with some of the smoke.
So take it all with a grain of salt until you hear someone reliable tell you it's confirmed. "We've been hearing…" and "The rumor is…" and "Unconfirmed reports say…" don't usually add up to much.
Having said that (h/t Larry D.) I figured we might as well throw a comprehensive list out there so you at least have an idea of who will be being talked about over the next few days, their backgrounds and the issues that would be at play. I preface this with two very big caveats:
1.) Mark Richt says he did not interview anyone before telling the guys he just let go of the changes, and I completely believe him. So this list is utterly speculative (unless otherwise stated) and no information has come from within the UGA offices.
2.) There's a very good chance that, much like Mark Fox, the final name comes from out of left field and isn't one that was on our radar all along.
So, much like the Psychic Friends Network, my weekly college picks and any four-way stop signs… this post is for ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY. No actual journalism was harmed during the making of this list.
(NOTE: Salaries are taken from USA Today assistant coaches salary report.)
(SECOND NOTE: These are ranked from most likely to least likely by my admittedly unreliable estimation.)
Current Position: Defensive coordinator at Albama
Current Salary: $360,000 (with up to $81,350 in bonuses)
Why it will happen: Smart is a Georgia guy, earning All-SEC honors as a defensive back in 1998. He began his coaching career at Georgia as a GA and was the running backs coach in 2005. While most people assume he's tied to Nick Saban, that's not necessarily a solid relationship. There's a big gap in personalities between Saban and Mark Richt. Plus, from what I've been told, Smart never really wanted to leave Georgia when he departed for Alabama, but he wanted to coach on the defensive side of the football. That wasn't an option in 2006, but it is now. Salary-wise, he's making about 5 percent more than Martinez was making (including max bonuses) so it wouldn't be hard for Damon Evans to give him a nice bump in pay.
Why it won't happen: The reasons to leave Alabama are all aesthetic for Smart. Professionally speaking, he's in a good situation. The Tide has a stellar defense, has gone to the SEC CG the past two seasons and with another year or two of solid work under his belt, Smart would be in line for a head-coaching gig somewhere. Alabama also isn't likely to want to let him get away to another SEC school, so the bidding war could be high -- particularly when you consider that Smart could well be on Florida State's radar, too. Add to that the fact that he's still under contract with Alabama, and this might be a pricey get for the Dawgs.
Current Position: Defensive coordinator at Duke
Current Salary: N/A
Why it will happen: Just earned the AFCA's National Assistant Coach of the Year award last month. Got his start as a grad assistant at Georgia in the early '90s. Has additional SEC ties, having worked for current Duke coach David Cutcliffe at Ole Miss from 1999-2002. Shaved nearly 10 points per fame off Duke's average in his first season on the job last year. Has spent several years in the NFL. He's from Miami, so he and Richt can spend time talking about laying on the beach in Boca.
Why it won't happen: Has shown an ability to coach up less talented players, but that's not always a sure bet to be able to get the most from more talented players. MacIntyre has never coached at as high-profile a situation as UGA. He's only been with the Blue Devils for two years. Expectations are pretty easy to exceed in Durham. He's a Georgia Tech grad and Richt may not want his film room being repurposed for a Worlds of Warcraft tournament. (Sorry, couldn't help myself. I'm still bitter about the lack of Internet at the game.)
Current Position: Defensive coordinator at Kansas State
Current Salary: $265,000 (and a max bonus of $104,800)
Why it will happen: He has ties to the South, having coached at both Troy and Clemson. While with the Tigers from 2005-2008, he routinely had a top-10-caliber defense nationally (11th in 05, 16th in 06, 10th in 07, 13th in 08). In his first year at Kansas State, he shaved 13 points per game off the team's scoring defense, moving them from 110th nationally to 48th. The coaching situation is tenuous at Kansas State, as Bill Snyder has already retired once. And most importantly, I've been told Koenning would definitely listen to an offer.
Why it won't happen: He's already coaching at his alma mater, and the expectations at Kansas State aren't quite what they are at Georgia. Plus, if/when Snyder retires again, Koenning could be next in line for the head job.
Current Position: Defensive coordinator, Clemson
Current Salary: $375,000
Why it will happen: Has close ties to both Florida State (like Richt) and the SEC, where he was defensive coordinator at Alabama for two years. Has recruiting ties nationally, has overseen a Clemson defense that ranks 21st nationally in scoring defense, and his salary is commensurate with what Georgia was already paying Martinez. While Steele was at FSU for several years, he has shown a propensity for jumping around a bit, so he may be willing to listen to Georgia if they call, despite having been at Clemson for just a year. Added bonus: He has some NFL experience, which is a nice plus with recruits.
Why it won't happen: He has two more years left on his contract, which means a potentially costly buy-out for the Bulldogs. Plus, he has only been at his current job for a year. Add to that the fact that the SEC is a bit tougher gambit than the ACC, and he's already made that move once, and it may be that the interest is minimal on his part.
Current Position: Defensive Coordinator, North Carolina
Current Salary: $330,000 (plus up to $55,000 in bonuses)
Why it will happen: Really solid assistant with an exceptional track record who has proven he can turn lower-level talent into a winner and can also win on a bigger stage. He has NFL experience and has worked for some extremely accomplished head coaches including Butch Davis, Mack Brown and Jeff Fisher. While Georgia has struggled to create turnovers, Withers' defenses have collected 39 interceptions in the past two seasons. UNC ranks 14th in the nation in scoring defense this season under Withers. Turned Trimane Goddard into an All-American last year. Has ties to the South and could be an effective recruiter in the Carolinas, where Fabris was the go-to guy in the past. He won't command significantly more than Martinez earned, and with Butch Davis' name rumored for some other potential openings, there may be just enough speculation about the state of affairs at UNC for Withers to want to move on.
Why it won't happen: Withers has held three different jobs in the past four years. He has only been a DC at the college level for three seasons. He has no ties to the SEC.
Current Position: Defensive line coach, Buffalo Bills
Current Salary: ???
Why it will happen: He's a Southerner currently stuck in the snow banks of upstate New York. He spent 11 seasons at Florida where he helped groom stars like Jevon Kearse. He has hands-on experience coaching all over the defense. His NFL ties will play well with recruits. Buffalo's coaching situation is in complete flux, and Sanders could be looking for a job at year's end no matter what.
Why it won't happen: It has been 10 years since he has coached at the college level, and that's a long time to be away from the game. If the knock on Willie Martinez is that he had trouble adjusting to facing spread offenses, there's little evidence that Sanders can handle the job either. Has ties to Steve Spurrier, which might be hard for some fans to overcome. Oh, and the Bills are awful.
Current Position: Defensive coordinator at TCU
Current Salary: N/A
Why it will happen: Bumpas is a hot name now at a non-BCS school. His defense at TCU is ranked sixth nationally and the Horned Frogs are wrapping up an undefeated season. Unlike many of the other names on this list, Georgia would be a step up in terms of profile for Bumpas, who probably needs to prove himself in a Big Boy League before head-coaching jobs come his way. It's been a while, but Bumpas also started his coaching career in the SEC, spending time at both Arkansas and Tennessee. Plus, he has a great mustache... sort of like in Burt Lancaster in "Field of Dreams."
Why it won't happen: While Bumpas is a hot name now, he's not what you might call a young up-and-comer. He's never been a DC at a BCS-conference school. His head coach just got a lucrative contract extension, so assuming one was waiting in the wings for him, too, might not be too far off. It's been 20 years since he worked heavily in the SEC and his recruiting ties to the area aren't likely as strong as some other candidates.
Current Position: Defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech
Current Salary: $142,750
Why it will happen: He's a Stone Mountain native who graduated from Georgia during the Dooley years. He's working for another Dooley now at La Tech. He's turned around a defense that was among the worst in the country prior to his arrival and turned it into a solid unit. Spent time coaching at Georgia Southern and knows the state's recruiting trails well. A salary commensurate with what Willie was earning would be a near 250 percent increase over his current pay scale. Plus, he knows Paul Johnson from their days at Georgia Southern, which might make him particularly good at driving Tech fans crazy for the next few years.
Why it won't happen: La Tech actually allowed nearly as many points per game as Georgia did this year in a much worse conference. Doesn't have the same resume that many of the other candidates do, and hasn't ever coached at a BCS level. Plus, everyone knows that, while Spangler (sic) was the brains of the group, it was Venkman who engineered all the real success.
Current Position: Linebackers coach with the Dallas Cowboys
Current Salary: ???
Why it will happen: Has coached all over in college football, including a few stops in the South at Auburn (86-91), Clemson (94-01) and Arkansas (05-07), where he also served briefly as an interim coach. He's a Florida State grad, where Richt has strong ties, and his wife is a native Georgian. His son, Adam, plays at Auburn, which may or may not be a reason for him to come to the SEC. He's had plenty of success at several levels and his NFL ties would help on the recruiting trail. Plus, if Dallas falls apart down the stretch, there's a good chance there would be changes to that coaching staff.
Why it won't happen: He's making NFL money now and he's only in his second season with the Cowboys. His last gig at the college level was not without controversy as he worked at Texas A&M for just a few months before resigning and heading to Dallas.
Current Position: Defensive coordinator, Wake Forest
Current Salary: N/A
Why it will happen: Coached at Georgia for five years under Jim Donnan. Has had a lot of success at Wake Forest as an assistant and for the past two seasons as DC. Coached Butkus Award Winner Aaron Curry, who became a top-five draft pick last year. Was the architect of Wake's defense that finished 16th nationally in scoring defense a year ago. Has strong recruiting ties in the Southeast. May want to work somewhere with a bit more recruiting prestige than Wake.
Why it won't happen: He's been at Wake for nine years and hasn't shown a desire to bolt for greener pastures. Plus, he was just promoted to DC two years ago. Richt had a chance to keep him on staff when he was first hired and didn't.
Current Position: Georgia defensive tackles coach/Recruiting coordinator
Current Salary: $290,000 (and up to $92,150 in bonus money)
Why it will happen: Garner has been at Georgia longer than anyone and has already been passed over for the DC job twice. He's UGA's recruiting coordinator and has been immensely successful in that role during his tenure. He has flirted with other job openings, so a promotion might ensure he stays. He knows the team inside and out and would help ease the transition for the players.
Why it won't happen: As we discussed last week, Garner worked this year without a contract and there appears to be a bit of friction between him and the front office at UGA. Richt already stated he hasn't discussed the job with Garner, and you have to think if he was simply going to promote from within he wouldn't have canned the rest of the defensive staff first. Plus, the idea here was as much about shaking up the personality of the staff as the personnel, and Garner could be seen as more of the same.
Brian Van Gorder
Current Position: Defensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons
Current Salary: ???
Why it will happen: A big contingent of the fans would be thrilled. Richt talked about wanting to get back to where Georgia was when he first took over, and there would be no better way to do that than to hire back the guy who was in charge of those defenses. Van Gorder has never really left the state (aside from a dalliance with the Jags) and has had success in the NFL, which would make him an even more impressive recruiter than he was initially. He knows the job well and Richt knows Van Gorder well. Has a personality that fits more with the high-energy approach many fans would like to see and a good counter to Richt's calm and cool demeanor. Would probably take great enjoyment is shutting down Bobby Petrino's offense next year in Athens.
Why it won't happen: Van Gorder left for a reason, and the old saying that you can't go home again is an old saying for a reason. Fans may have spent the past few years yearning for the Van Gorder golden age, but I'm pretty sure Richt hasn't. Georgia needs a new direction, not a revival of old times. Besides, what makes fans so sure Van Gorder could have done any better than Willie in the current SEC? Oh, and how's that Falcons defense looking this year?
Current Position: Defensive coordinator, Georgia State
Current Salary: ???
Why it will happen: He has a long history in the SEC, with stops at Ole Miss, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas -- so really he just needs a few more to knock out the whole conference. He's already been studying up on Alabama, so he'll be ready if UGA faces the Tide in next year's SEC title game. He's already in state, so moving expenses would be minimal.
Why it won't happen: Thompson has been around for a long time, and he's in a good position of building a program with little stress to excel immediately at Georgia State. Not to say the guy is past his prime, but he's held nine different jobs in the past 10 years and hasn't established any tradition of success. When your resume has more stops than mine does in the past decade, you're probably not the right guy for the job.
Current Position: Broadcaster
Current Salary: Unemployed, but still earning cash from Auburn
Why it will happen: Tuberville and Richt have a strong relationship. The job could be a solid stepping stone for Tuberville back into the head coaching ranks, similar to what David Cutcliffe did at Tennessee a few years ago. He knows the SEC inside and out and has always put a solid defensive team on the field. Having a coach we could refer to as "Tubs" would be great… especially if somehow Zach Crockett could end up working at UGA, too.
Why it won't happen: It's a bad move for Georgia. Tuberville would see the job strictly as a stepping stone, and Georgia should be looking for a long-term solution. Why would Richt want to bring someone in with the knowledge that he'll likely be going through the same process again in a year or two. Plus, while the dynamic between Richt and Tuberville is strong off the field, that can change quickly when they're no longer peers and Tuberville becomes a subordinate. There's a good chance Tuberville gets a call from Richt, but it'll be more likely that Richt is asking for advice or input rather than offering an interview. Plus, I once snubbed him in an elevator and he was fired four months later. That's bad mojo.
Current Position: Defensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting at Texas
Current Salary: $900,000 (plus up to $93,150 in bonus money)
Why it will happen: Muschamp is a Georgia guy, having played for the Dawgs in the early '90s. He's also coached at Valdosta State, LSU and Auburn, so he knows the area well. Might be tired of being a "coach in waiting" behind a head coach showing no signs of leaving.
Why it won't happen: This would be a downgrade for Muschamp in almost every way imaginable and there's no way Georgia is going to pony up the dough to match or exceed what he's making at Texas when, in all likelihood, he'll leave for a head-coaching job in the not-too-distant future anyway.
A few other names I've also heard from fans but don't put a lot of stock into at the moment (and by the way, I put almost no stock in the Van Gorder, Muschamp, Tuberville stuff either)...
David Pollack -- Come on, really? You're going to fire Willie then hire a guy with no coaching experience?
Jon Tenuta -- Good recruiting ties to the South and a decent track record as a DC, but coming off a team that had its head coach fired because of the defense and he's got a bit of an eccentric personality to boot.
Bud Foster -- I just can't see any reason why he'd leave Virginia Tech for this job. The guy has been there for 15 years, why would he leave now?
Sly Croom -- He does have a good relationship with Richt and ties to the SEC, but I think his future is in the NFL.
OK, so who am I forgetting? Who would you like to see? Who do you think is the most likely candidate?