ATHENS — Mark Richt was there to talk about Texas A&M, but the questions at his Independence Bowl preview news conference had little to do with the game. Instead, Georgia’s vacant defensive coordinator position was the hot topic of discussion.
But while fans and media and even Georgia’s players anxiously wait for a hire to be announced, Richt offered little in the way of substantive clues two weeks after dismissing Willie Martinez from the job.
“We all know it’s a very important hire and one that I’m doing the due diligence I think that it takes,” Richt said. “I’m working towards that end.”
As to just when the search might end, however, Richt wasn’t interested in being pinned down on specifics.
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Coaches enter a recruiting quiet period this weekend, but they’ll hit the road again in early January, which marks the only definitive date by which Richt seems to be aiming to have his staff in place, but even then, he’s making no promises.
“I would say the safest bet, and I don’t want to put a timetable on it, but I would hate to think it goes much past the first week of January,” Richt said. “Even then, I’m not going to say 100 percent because I’m not 100 percent sure when it will happen.”
While it has been widely rumored that the Bulldogs are interested in Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, the buzz there has cooled in recent days, and with the Crimson Tide destined for a date with Texas in the Jan. 7 BCS national championship game, there has been little formal discussion of any moves in Smart’s direction.
Richt did contact Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster and Kansas State defensive coordinator Vic Koenning to discuss the job, but those options have already closed. Foster is close to agreeing to a new deal to stay with the Hokies, while Koenning is expected to take the defensive coordinator job at Illinois.
Other calls have no doubt been made as Richt explores his options, but he said the process of nailing down a finalist is one he’s keeping to himself.
“I’m just going to say that it’s a private search,” Richt said. “The bottom line is I’m going to be the one making the final decision on it.”
Between Smart, Foster and Koenning, Richt has clearly set his sights high, but beyond that, the qualifications in a potential hire have remained deliberately vague.
“I’m open to championship level defense,” Richt said. “I’m not going to say I will not consider this scheme or that scheme or I have to have this scheme or that scheme. I won’t do it because there are different ways of skinning it. If you are really good at skinning it the way you do it, it’s OK with me.”
The same is true for the two other assistant coaches Georgia needs to hire after linebackers coach John Jancek and defensive ends coach Jon Fabris were let go along with Martinez. Those hires will follow the defensive coordinator, however, as Richt said he would like the incoming coordinator to have a say — although not the final say — in filling out the staff.
“He’ll have say and suggestions, but it’s got to be through my blessing,” Richt said. “I do want to hire the defensive coordinator first so he will have some input.”
Beyond that, few specific details have emerged, and even Richt’s remaining assistants have said they know little about Richt’s hiring process.
And if the coaches are in the dark and the fans are clamoring for any hint of news, the players are the ones caught in the middle — anxious to learn about their future coaches, but with their minds still set on the task at hand.
“They haven’t said much about how long it’s going to take,” cornerback Branden Smith said. “We’re not even worried about it right now. Everybody’s just focused on the bowl game.”
By the time the Bulldogs wrap up that bowl game on Dec. 28, they’re hoping the picture will be a bit clearer. Until then, they’re simply trying to keep the faith and biding their time.
“Everybody wants to know who it will be,” cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “But I know they’re going to have to take their time with the process and choose the right person, so I have to be patient.”