All right, let's talk defensive coordinators for a minute. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the guys I've seen bandied about as guys to potentially go after to replace Willie Martinez, but it includes the names I've seen mentioned most frequently, and I've divided them into three categories: (1) Want, and Might Be Able to Get; (2) Want, but Can't Get; and (3) Don't Want, Period.
We'll start with the most relevant category first.
Why we want him: His 30-year coaching career has been spent entirely on the defensive side of the ball, and includes an SEC-title run in the mid-'80s with Tennessee, a Southwest Conference run with Arkansas in 1990, and Navy's lone bowl run in the 20 years preceding Paul Johnson. In his current stint as Texas Christian's D-coordinator, he brought the Horned Frogs up from 99th nationally in total defense in his first year to 25th in his second; since then, they've finished 2d, 15th, 1st, and 2d nationally in that category. Has an awesome last name (one that would lend itself to any number of awesome nicknames for our defense) and an even awesomer mustache.
Why we might not be able to get him: He's worked with current TCU head coach Gary Patterson off and on for nearly 30 years now; between that loyalty and his age (61), he may not be in a huge hurry to make any kind of lateral move.
Why we want him: An All-SEC defensive back for Georgia in '98, Kirby did a fine job coaching our RBs in 2005 and supposedly would've been happy to stay at his alma mater but wanted a chance to coach defense, which Nick Saban offered him at Alabama. Currently coordinates the nation's third-ranked defense, which you'll be able to observe for yourself in the SEC title game this weekend.
Why we might not be able to get him: If the Tide win the SEC title and thus have to go straight into preparations for the national championship game, we might not even be able to talk to him until mid-January, and Richt may want to have some kind of decision made before then. Not that Smart would necessarily be a lock to come home anyway, given that he'd be going from an established powerhouse D in Tuscaloosa to a semi-rebuilding job in Athens. Needless to say, Bama can match or exceed any salary offer we'd make, too.
Why we want him: This is a prospect I haven't seen mentioned anywhere yet, but it should be: Snyder spent 13 years as a defensive coordinator before taking over head-coaching duties at Marshall (which he was relieved of earlier this week despite pulling the Thundering Herd to bowl eligibility for the first time since 2004). His most recent DC job was at Ohio State, where he worked on Jim Tressel's first four Buckeye squads, including the 2002 national-title team. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- the Buckeyes went 14-0 that year with Craig Krenzel as their quarterback. So somebody on that staff knew something about defense. And he's only 44, so he's got a lot of coaching/coordinating years left in him and is the kind of guy Georgia could keep around for a long time.
Why we might not be able to get him: His entire career has been spent in the Midwest, and with Notre Dame (and, potentially, Cincinnati) looking for a new coaching staff, it's not a given that he'd want to come all the way down to Athens.
Why we want him: Tanked as a head coach at Baylor but has been a big success pretty much everywhere he's been a defensive coach, including his last two jobs, at Alabama (2007-08) and Clemson (this year). The Tigers are currently ranked 14th nationally in total defense and 12th against the pass, and are second in the nation with 21 interceptions, so he could be a big boost for a Georgia secondary that languished this year despite returning plenty of upperclass experience. Has served time in the NFL, too, which could be a bonus from a recruiting perspective.
Why we might not be able to get him: Has only been at Clemson for a year and isn't necessarily looking to make a lateral move -- and even the SEC doesn't appear to be an especially big draw from his perspective, as he left Nick Saban's staff at Alabama to join Dabo Swinney's. Clemson's legendarily generous athletic boosters will probably be able to match any kind of offer we make, too.
Why we want him: His coaching résumé includes stops with the Louisville Cardinals, Texas Longhorns (under Mack Brown), and Tennessee Titans, with each team excelling on defense and picking off boatloads of passes under his direction. In his current position as North Carolina's defensive coordinator/secondary coach, the Tarheels are ranked sixth in the nation in total defense, which is a major part of why they're 8-4 and bowl-bound despite only averaging 311 yards per game on offense. Another relatively young guy (46) who could put in a lot of good years with the Dawgs.
Why we might not be able to get him: He doesn't have any SEC ties that I know of. And while Butch Davis's name has been talked up for a number of recent head-coaching jobs (Notre Dame being one of the bigger and more recent), which have caused some people to speculate that Withers might be open to leaving a potentially unstable situation at UNC, there's probably an equal chance that Withers could be talked into following Davis wherever he goes, particularly if it's to a big-name school like ND.
Now for the pie-in-the-sky guys -- these fellas are all on numerous Dawg fans' wish lists, but there's no chance they'd actually come.
WANT BUT CAN'T GET
Just kidding (sort of). Nobody's thrown his name out there even as a swing-for-the-fences candidate; I think Mark Richt should offer him $2 million a year to come to Georgia just to tweak Lane Kiffin the same way Kiffin's been tweaking just about everyone else in the SEC. "See, Kiffykins? You're not the only one who can be a douche just for the sake of being a douche. Oh, and we're also offering Layla the position of watergirl-in-waiting for whenever Kathryn decides to hang it up."
Seems like every Georgia fan I know has been clamoring for us to replace Willie with MC Boom MF for years, and I can see why -- he's both a Georgia alum and a terrific defensive coach. But the window for us being able to bring Muschamp home closed at the beginning of 2008 when Texas hired him to be their D-coordinator, then got permanently padlocked when they named him Mack Brown's "coach-in-waiting" 10 months later. I have no doubt that Muschamp loves his alma mater, but there's no way that loyalty is enough to overcome a sure-thing job as the head coach of one of the nation's top programs, particularly if all we're offering him is a lateral move.
This would be a double win for us, as we'd be getting one of the nation's top defensive coaches and giving a big fuck-you to Florida in the bargain. But Strong is another one of those guys who's been talked about as head-coaching material for what seems like forever (over the past couple years, his name has appeared next to the phrase "Why hasn't anyone offered this guy a head-coaching job yet?" more than any other assistant in the country), and it looks like he may finally get his shot at Louisville. Like Muschamp, his stock is way too high right now for him to have any serious interest in making a lateral move.
As much as I've dinged Tuberville in the past for his cocky smarm, it'd be an interesting counterpoint to Richt's dead-eyed calm, and I like the kind of defensive mind who allows you to be confident in your prospects for a win even when you've only scored three points. And if there was a way for us to hold Gene Chizik's Tigers to negative points when we go out to Auburn next year, I have no doubt Tubbs would find it. But this guy's been a head coach at one of the top programs in the SEC (and managed to go 13-0 there, no less); he's got a big enough ego that he's not going to snap up the first coordinator job someone dangles in front of his face. He can afford to wait around for someone to offer him a tasty head-coaching job, which may happen as soon as the next few weeks -- I've heard him mentioned for the Louisville and Virginia jobs, and he'll probably also be mentioned for the jobs at Cincinnati, North Carolina, or even Oklahoma should any of those coaches be lured away by a sweeter deal.
Stipulated: Georgia's defense was awesome when BVG was the coordinator. Pass that petition around and I'll sign it twice. But VanGorder left a very secure position at Georgia for a reason -- he eventually wanted to wind up in the NFL (as you'll recall, he left Georgia to become the Jacksonville Jaguars' LBs coach), and now he's the defensive coordinator for a team with annual playoff expectations. (Yes, the Falcons have playoff expectations now. I'm as stunned as you are.) He's not going to leave the prestige of the NFL to take a job he's already held, and even if we somehow lured him back, his case of career ADD (five jobs in five years following his departure from Athens, including South Carolina, where he left after a month without ever having coached in an actual game) leads me to believe we'd only be doing this exact same job search again in a year or two.
And now the veto list -- people who will almost certainly be talked about (if they haven't been already) but from whom we should steer clear.
Chuck the Chest knows Richt from their Florida State days. The defenses Amato worked on in that first stint at Florida State were excellent; the ones he had a hand in during his second stint (starting in 2007), much less so. This year's FSU defense finished dead last in the conference in both rushing and overall yardage, and remember, this is the ACC we're talking about here. He as much as anyone symbolized a staff that had grown stale and sclerotic in the declining years of the Bobby Bowden regime, which is exactly the condition we're trying to avoid with this current shakeup in Athens. When you're known more for your wraparound shades, man-boobs, and Joe Pesci voice than your actual, you know, coaching ability, you're probably past your prime.
He took over the role of D-coordinator when Al Golden left to take the head-coaching job at Temple (where he's been excellent), and while Groh's defenses were decent -- they'd have to be, given UVA's decrepit offense, for the Cavs to win any games at all -- they weren't consistently great. His crankiness would probably bring back memories of Jim Donnan in all the wrong ways; he's probably more likely to take an NFL job than anything else, since that's really his wheelhouse to begin with, but at his age (65) he may simply be content to bide his time until he can go home and play golf. And everything points to Richt looking for a lot more fire and motivation than that in our next DC.
Supposedly a complete asshole -- not that he's Mangino-bad, or even that being an asshole somehow disqualifies one from being a coach (clearly it doesn't), but he's an asshole to a degree that I don't think he'd be a good fit personality-wise with our program. Then there's the fact that his defenses at Notre Dame generally stunk, to the point where the Irish have only managed to go 6-6 this year even with their offense having its best season since Brady Quinn left. Runs a blitz-happy scheme that frequently leaves the secondary vulnerable, and pass defense is one of the biggest things we need to work on at the moment. And I just don't think it'd look good to bring in a member of the Chan Gailey staff we owned for six long years. If he never once figured out a way to beat us, what do we possibly have to gain by hiring him?
Ran some good defenses at Florida, a so-so one at South Carolina, and a godawful one at Ole Miss in 2007 (52d nationally against the pass, 101st against the run, 88th overall). If hiring someone from Chan Gailey's staff would look weird, hiring someone from Ed Orgeron's Ole Miss staff would look downright suicidal. Hasn't held the same job for more than two years in a row since 1998. And I think we can do better than poaching the DC from a brand-new program (Georgia State) that hasn't even played its first game yet. Again, he'd be a journeyman retread in a position where we're looking for someone with new energy and a long-term vision.
Obviously there are names out there that I haven't thought to include in any of these lists, so throw your suggestions in the comments and I'll use them in the next installment, assuming Richt doesn't pull the trigger first.