Needed: A defensive coordinator who understands how defense must be played in the SEC.
First choice (and a no-brainer): Kirby Smart, the Georgia alum who coaches Alabama’s defense.
Problem: It’s not even a lateral move for Smart, Alabama being a demonstrably better program than Georgia. And Alabama can, as we know, outspend the Yankees to keep the guys it wants.
Possible bit of leverage: Nick Saban is a notoriously tough boss — the anti-Richt — and is still widely seen as the man behind Alabama’s D. Smart might want to strike out on his own.
Plan B: Ellis Johnson of South Carolina.
Why him: He has done great work with lesser talent than Georgia’s, and he has coordinated defenses at Alabama and Mississippi State. And he did what a lot of folks can only dream of doing: He bailed out on Bobby Petrino after a month at Arkansas.
Why he might leave: No one knows how much longer Steve Spurrier will coach South Carolina, and even if Spurrier stays another five years it’s clear the Gamecocks will always hit a ceiling in the SEC East.
Possible roadblock: His contract runs through 2011.
Other names: Tommy Tuberville isn’t going to take an assistant’s job. Will Muschamp, another UGA grad, isn’t coming; being coach-in-waiting at Texas trumps being defensive coordinator at Georgia. Brian VanGorder seems happy in Flowery Branch, and it takes a lot to make BVG happy. Charlie Strong, formerly of South Carolina and now of Florida, is apt to become head coach at Louisville. And there seems no cause to promote Rodney Garner: Why bump up the lone holdover from a defensive staff Mark Richt just admitted was substandard?
The best guess: Smart stays in Tuscaloosa and Ellis Johnson moves to Athens.
Would that be an upgrade over Willie Martinez? No more than a suite at the Ritz-Carlton would be an upgrade over a room with two double beds at Motel 6.