ATHENS - This offseason will see one change on the Georgia football coaching staff after all, and it comes at the team's biggest weak spot.
Secondary coach Scott Lakatos has resigned for personal reasons, the team announced on Thursday night.
"We are very appreciative of Scott's contributions to our program over the last four years and I have a great amount of respect for him as a coach and as a person," head coach Mark Richt said in a statement. "We wish him and his family nothing but the best."
Richt said at the end of the regular season that "everyone should be back." But sources around the program had said that Lakatos, 48, might be ready to leave on his own. Still, he remained with the program through the Gator Bowl, and his departure comes eight days after the end of the season.
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There was no word on any potential replacements. One name worth mentioning is Manny Diaz, who was ousted as Texas defensive coordinator last September, but had a successful stint before that at Mississippi State. Diaz, 39, was a graduate assistant at Florida State in 1998-99, when Richt was the Seminoles' offensive coordinator. Diaz has mostly coached linebackers, but has coached defensive backs as well.
The next six days are open for any search, as it's a recruiting dark period until Jan. 15. Georgia could also wait until after signing day on Feb. 5.
Lakatos leaves the team after four seasons, having three good ones before immense struggles this season. He joined the staff before the 2010 season as part of the turnover on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is now the lone member of that staff to remain from the 2010 season.
Georgia's secondary was the weak point of the team this year, struggling with youth and inexperience, and giving up numerous big passing plays. Georgia finished the season ranked ninth in the SEC in pass defense, and 60th in the country, yielding 227.4 yards per game. The Bulldogs were also ninth in third-down defense, letting opponents convert 39.9 percent of the time.
But the Georgia secondary was much better in previous years, ranking eighth nationally in pass defense in 2012, and 12th nationally the previous year, and 16th in Lakatos' first year. That was when it was led by veterans, including future NFL draft picks Brandon Boykin, Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and Sanders Commings.
This season the situation turned chaotic, with Lakatos using seven different starting lineups. The only returning starter, junior cornerback Damian Swann, did not have the season that was expected. Freshman safety Tray Matthews, who had a strong spring practice, struggled with injuries and when he was on the field he couldn't play consistently. Freshman Reggie Wilkerson, who was set to play a lot after a good spring, tore his ACL over the summer. Freshman cornerback Brendan Langley started the first three games, then lost his spot and hardly returned to the field. Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and cornerback Sheldon Dawson were suspended for the Gator Bowl.
“Some young guys got thrown to the fire," Lakatos said in December. "Like I told them: When you get thrown to the fire you can either get harder or you can wilt. I think they’ve gotten harder. I’ve seen a couple guys really improve, probably more than they would’ve if they hadn’t been in that situation. You know, you’ve gotta play the cards that you’re dealt, and find a way to win games.”
The result of all the problems were a litany of explosive plays given up, including two glaring ones:
- The Auburn miracle pass, when Harvey-Clemons failed to bat down a deep pass while he collided with Matthews.
- A 99-yard touchdown pass on third-and-14, by Nebraska in the bowl game.
“You can’t replace snaps and experience," Lakatos said in December. "Like we said early in the year, they’re going to be good, we just don’t know when. Is it next week, is it two weeks from now? Just keep working.”
Whoever replaces Lakatos will at least have a lot of returning players: Senior Connor Norman, a former walk-on who started the first two games this year, is the only player leaving. The team expects to sign Malkom Parrish, a four-star recruit from Brooks County High School, and is heavily pursuing Wesley Green, another four-star recruit. The Bulldogs also expect to sign junior college cornerback Shattle Fenteng and high school safety Kendall Gant.
This is just the second assistant coach to leave Georgia's staff since the end of the 2010 season. Last year defensive line coach Rodney Garner left and was replaced by Chris Wilson.
Two names floated by coachingsearch.com, a respected national site, were both former members of the Texas staff: Diaz, and Duane Akina, the Longhorns' longtime defensive backs coach.
Lakatos earned $235,000 this past season, tying for the lowest salary on the staff. A native of New Jersey, Lakatos played at Western Connecticut and then spent the first 13 years of his coaching career in New England schools. He then spent three years at Rugers and six at Connecticut, serving as secondary coach in each stop, before coming to Georgia.