ATHENS - Mark Richt is now seeking his fourth defensive coordinator since he came to Georgia in 2001. The last time there was a search, it began after the regular season ended, and was an open-ended search that resulted in a dramatic schematic change for the Georgia defense.
This time around there is a shorter window, and there almost certainly will not be a change in Georgia's scheme.
The Bulldogs have been recruiting for the 3-4 defense for four years, returns all but one starter for next season's defense, and is 24 days away from national signing day.
When Richt said in December that Grantham was being retained, he said the "continuity is good for Georgia." Well Grantham won't be leading the defense after all, but it's almost certain Richt will seek the continuity. So with that in mind, here is an educated guess on realistic candidates for the job:
(Brief note: It's my guess that if it's not one of the first three names on this list, the choice will end up being a name off this list).
Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator: This is the first name that came up four years ago, and it's the first one that came up this time around too. Smart a former Georgia player and and assistant coach. But he is earning $1.3 million at Alabama, so why would he make a lateral move? Georgia figures to at least reach out again in case Smart, who remains close friends with Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, wants to come back. It's always possible that Smart isn't crazy about working with Lane Kiffin, the newly-hired offensive coordinator. And Georgia would almost certainly match Smart's pay at Alabama. None of this is to say that Smart will be a serious candidate this time. It's just to say that Georgia will check in again, and almost certainly already has.
Kirk Olivadotti, Georgia inside linebackers coach: Olivadotti would be a big nod toward continuity, as he was hired by Grantham three years ago, and therefore knows the defense and the personnel. The drawback is Olivadotti, 40, has never served as a coordinator. But he is the son of a longtime NFL defensive coach (Tom Olivadotti), and spent 11 years with the Washington Redskins as a defensive position coach.
Chris Wilson, Georgia defensive line coach: This would be another nod toward continuity, and Wilson also has coordinator experience. He was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State from 2011-12, before being demoted, spurring his departure to Georgia. Wilson, 41, did a good job with the Bulldogs in his first season, as the run defense was the surprising bright spot on the defense.
Clancy Pendergrast, former Southern California defensive coordinator: Pendergast was not retained by new USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, who wanted to bring Justin Wilcox with him from Washington. But the Trojan defense was pretty good in its one year under Pendergast, who was the coordinator at California from 2010-12, and before that spent 15 years in the NFL as a position coach. He runs the 3-4 also. The only drawback is that Pendergast, a native of Phoenix, has scant ties to the SEC, serving one year as a graduate assistant at Mississippi State, and that was 22 years ago.
Manny Diaz, former Texas defensive coordinator: Just a few years ago Diaz was a rising star in the profession, and Texas hired him away from Mississippi State in 2011. But Diaz was fired last September, during the season, as Texas' defense faltered. There is a connection: Diaz was a graduate assistant at Florida State in the late 1990s, when Richt was the offensive coordinator. But would Georgia hire someone to lead its defense who was just axed by another school?
David Gibbs, Houston defensive coordinator: CBSsports.com reporter Bruce Feldman reported Sunday that Gibbs had already been contacted by Georgia. Gibbs, 46, has experience as both a college defensive coordinator (Auburn for one year and Minnesota for four years) and NFL position coordinator (four years with Denver, three with Kansas City and two with the Houston Texans). He spent 2012 with a UFL team, then was hired last year at Houston.
Randy Shannon, Arkansas linebackers coach Shannon, 46, was the head coach at Miami, his alma mater, from 2007-10, before being let go. He was the linebackers coach at TCU in 2012 before joining Bret Bielema's staff. Shannon spent almost his entire coaching career at Miami, also Richt's alma mater, though their playing careers did not overlap.