ATHENS — Anyone calling Todd Grantham’s state-issued cell phone on Sunday night still heard the song “Georgia on my mind.” But Georgia is now in Grantham’s past, as he moves on for more security and his old program gets a fresh start.
Grantham, the defensive coordinator at Georgia the past four seasons, is leaving for Louisville. The highest-paid assistant coach on Georgia’s staff is getting even richer, as ESPN reported that Grantham would receive a five-year deal worth $1 million annually from Louisville.
A month ago, Georgia head coach Mark Richt stressed “continuity” in keeping Grantham, after a rough season for his defense. By Sunday, however, Richt was saying he was “excited” about bringing in a new defensive coordinator.
“We are appreciative of all the contributions Todd has made to our program and wish him nothing but the best,” Richt said in a statement. “But at the same time the opportunity to work at Georgia is extremely attractive and there already is and will be interest from some very, very outstanding coaches. 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. I’m excited about the prospects of a great defensive coordinator being on board as quickly as possible.”
Georgia is only losing one starter from this past year’s defense, which ranked eighth in the SEC in yards allowed and tied for 10th in scoring defense.
Georgia was paying Grantham $850,000 per season as part of a three-year deal he signed after the 2011 season. This was set to be the final year of Grantham’s contract, so it’s understandable that he would bolt for more security.
Grantham called athletics director Greg McGarity on Saturday to let him know that he would be talking with Louisville, as Grantham is required to do per his contract.
“Todd called me Saturday to let me know that Louisville wanted to talk to him,” McGarity said Sunday evening. “I said, ‘Thanks for calling.’ That was it.”
Lamont Galliard, perhaps the team’s highest-rated defensive recruit so far, said Sunday night that Grantham’s departure would not affect him, because he was mainly recruited by defensive line coach Chris Wilson and tight ends coach John Lilly said.
“I only talked to him (Grantham) two or three times,” said Galliard, a defensive lineman from Fayetteville, N.C., who is rated a five-star prospect by 247Sports.com. “It’s still Georgia; they’ll find another defensive coordinator. Hopefully it doesn’t affect the team.”
Keyon Brown, a four-star defensive lineman from Wauchula, Fla., also said Grantham’s departure wouldn’t have an effect on him.
“I like Coach Grantham and all, and I hope he has a good time in Louisville, but I’m a Dawg. And that’s not changing,” Brown wrote in a text message.
Grantham, 47, became known at Georgia for his fiery manner, which led to some memorable moments: In 2010 he gave the choke-sign to Florida’s place-kicker before a game-winning field goal attempt; in 2011 he got into a memorable postgame tirade with Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. Grantham could also be brusque with the media and reluctant to give up secrets, although he always showed up for his media sessions.
At first, Grantham’s demeanor seemed to rub off on Georgia’s defense, and in 2011 the Bulldogs finished ranked fifth nationally in total defense. But a year later, with essentially the same players, the defense saw a dip in production. And this past season, the young defense struggled immensely, with some players saying they were struggling with Grantham’s complicated scheme.
Grantham did not immediately return a text message. Several other staff members were also unaware of the story, and tweets from Georgia players in the hour after the news broke indicated it was a surprise to them, as well.
Per his contract, Grantham will owe Georgia a small buyout — about $40,000 — if he left for another defensive coordinator job at the college level. There is no buyout for a college head coaching or NFL defensive coordinator job.
This was Grantham’s fourth season as Georgia’s defensive coordinator. The unit struggled this season, saddled with youth and inexperience. But Richt said Grantham would be retained, saying “continuity is good for Georgia.” But he added, “Everybody’s got to do what they’ve got to do as far as if they have opportunities and all that kind of things.”
Louisville announced Bobby Petrino as its new head coach Thursday. First reports had Kevin Steele, a staffer at Alabama, becoming Petrino’s defensive coordinator, but Steele pulled out. That apparently opened the door for Grantham’s hire.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart figures to be among the first people Richt contacts as a potential replacement. Smart, a former Georgia player and assistant coach, was pursued four years ago before Grantham was hired, and there’s no reason Georgia wouldn’t try again.
Failing that, Georgia could stay in-house with either Wilson (who was Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator from 2011-12) or inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti. And failing that, the choice is likely to be someone off the immediate radar.
Richt also seems likely to move quickly, with National Signing Day a little more than three weeks away. Richt is in Indianapolis at the coaches’ convention, which would be an opportunity to speak to candidates.
Richt was scheduled to have a postseason wrap-up news conference Saturday afternoon. But it was canceled at the last minute because of travel problems, according to a team spokesman.
There is the second opening on the staff, as secondary coach Scott Lakatos resigned for personal reasons Thursday.
This will be just the fourth different defensive coordinator in Richt’s tenure. Brian VanGorder left after four years for an NFL job, and Willie Martinez was fired after a five-year tenure.