With Todd Grantham's exit, Bulldogs face a critical juncture

With Todd Grantham's exit, Bulldogs face a critical juncture
January 13, 2014, 3:45 pm
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ATHENS, Ga. — Todd Grantham is gone, which is perhaps just what UGA fans wanted.

On Sunday, Georgia's oft-criticized defensive coordinator accepted an offer to take the same position at Louisville under Bobby Petrino—one that will pay him $1 million annually over five years, according to ESPN's Joe Schad.

Yes, the fact that Grantham will receive a raise after fielding mediocre defenses for the past two seasons might seem perplexing. While he always managed to sign some of the state's best recruits while at Georgia, it was what he did (or failed to do) with those players on the field that raised questions about his abilities as a coordinator.

Take the 2012 season, a year Grantham detractors love to bring up in conversation. The Bulldogs defense produced two first-round talents (Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree) plus five other draft picks, and yet the unit finished sixth in the SEC in scoring defense, 12th in run defense and got punished by Alabama in the conference title game. And with considerably less experience on defense entering 2013, the Bulldogs naturally took another step back, winding up ranked 79th nationally in scoring defense while giving up big plays through the air almost every week.

Players missed assignments and looked confused before the snap on multiple occasions. Nebraska's 99-yard touchdown in the Gator Bowl was, if nothing else, a fitting end to the season for a secondary that struggled to improve.

Speaking of which, UGA secondary coach Scott Lakatos had resigned due to "personal reasons" just a few days ahead of the Grantham move. That means head coach Mark Richt will be looking to fill two coaching vacancies on his defensive staff in the coming weeks—a task he wants to see finished as soon as possible.

"The opportunity to work at Georgia is extremely attractive and there
already is, and will be, interest from some very, very outstanding coaches," Richt said. "We have a lot of defensive players coming back, as well as some outstanding defensive recruits, and there's going to be plenty of interest in coaching them."

So who could be on the move to Athens?

The name that everyone immediately brings up whenever there is any sort of coaching vacancy, but especially at Georgia, is Kirby Smart. Alabama's excellent defensive coordinator is of course a former defensive back for the Bulldogs and the clear fan-favorite to replace Grantham (so much so that one went ahead and edited Smart's Wikipedia page.

Though Smart already makes a whopping $1.35 million in salary, it would not be out of the question for UGA to flash fistfuls of cash to land one of the best defensive minds in the country. But it would be a lateral move for Smart, and it's worth questioning why he would be willing to leave the Nick Saban safety net for a defense that admittedly needs some work.

Other names reportedly under consideration include Florida State coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and Houston coordinator David Gibbs, with several more names being thrown out around the Twittersphere as viable possibilities.

Internally, I had a bet that defensive line coach Chris Wilson, who did a fantastic job with Georgia's line in 2013 and had coordinating experience at Mississippi State, would be a candidate. The problem for UGA: Wilson is interviewing for the defensive line coach opening at Alabama Monday, meaning the Bulldogs very well could have an entirely different defensive staff in 2014.

What is sure at this point: Grantham is gone, and Richt has a huge decision on his hands.

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