ATHENS -- While his colleagues met, spoke and networked at their annual convention, Georgia head coach Mark Richt cut short his trip Monday, flying back home to continue his search for a new defensive coordinator.
Richt is on the board of the American Football Coaches Association, but he decided to concentrate Monday afternoon on finding a replacement for Todd Grantham, who bolted for Louisville on Sunday.
It’s a decision that will shape Georgia’s offseason and is being watched closely around college football. Georgia’s defense is set to return 10 starters from a unit that struggled this past season, but if a new coordinator can lead a turnaround, it should have an impact on the SEC race.
Richt and his remaining staff members are being tight-lipped about the search, and no confirmation could be made of any face-to-face meetings. It does appear that Richt wants to make a hire quickly, perhaps by the end of the week, and Georgia can also be expected to open up the checkbook, if necessary.
Grantham earned $850,000 this past season and is reportedly getting $1 million annually from Louisville. It does not appear that money was the issue in Georgia not keeping Grantham, and if the right candidate comes along, the school is expected to ante up.
To that end, several high-profile candidates have been connected with Georgia’s vacancy.
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, a former Georgia player and assistant coach, was pursued heavily by his alma mater four years ago, before ultimately deciding to stay with the Crimson Tide. Smart, who is earning $1.3 million at Alabama, would take about that much money and a lot of cajoling to come back.
Georgia was widely expected by industry sources to check back in on Smart this time, although it didn’t appear Monday, when Richt got off the plane, that there had been contact yet.
Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who just won a national championship, does not have the history at Georgia, although he has a connection. He played at Alabama with Will Friend, now Georgia’s offensive line coach, and the two remain close.
Two outlets, 247Sports and CBSSports.com, reported that Georgia was interested. Pruitt reportedly earned $540,000 this past season at Florida State, a sum that Georgia can easily top, should any decision become about money.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s two remaining defensive assistants are in limbo.
Defensive line coach Chris Wilson was reported to have interviewed for the same job at Alabama on Monday. But by the end of the day that job had been filled.
Inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti was in Athens and would only confirm that he was not following Grantham to Louisville.
“It’s a personal thing,” said Olivadotti, who has been at Georgia for three years and declined further comment.
Wilson and Olivadotti would both be natural candidates if Richt wanted to stay in-house. Wilson guided a rush defense that went from allowing 4.1 yards per rush in 2012 to just 3.7 yards per rush in 2013, despite less experience. Olivadotti coached the SEC’s two leading tacklers, Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera.
But neither can be blamed for looking elsewhere, because if Richt hires from outside, the new defensive coordinator might want to bring in his own assistants.