(Updated 6 p.m.)
As Bulldog Nation awaited word Sunday on whether Kirby Smart will be Georgia’s next defensive coordinator, the team’s best defensive player announced he is leaving school early for pro football.
In what he called the “toughest decision I’ve had to make in my life,” junior linebacker Rennie Curran said he will forgo his final season of college eligibility and enter the 2010 NFL draft.
His decision came as Georgia appeared on the verge of hiring a defensive coordinator to replace Willie Martinez, fired on Dec. 2.
Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator and a former Georgia player, has been considering a lucrative multi-year offer to take over the UGA defense but has not made his decision known.
“I’ll tell you what I’ve been saying all along: that I’m not going to make any comments on the search until I get my guy,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said late Sunday afternoon.
And is he about to get his guy?
“I’ll let you know when it happens, I promise,” Richt said.
Smart could not be reached for comment Sunday.
The new coordinator will have to rebuild the Bulldogs’ defense without the linebacker who led the SEC in tackles this past season.
Curran, from Brookwood High School, played in 37 games in his three seasons at Georgia, making 30 starts and 298 tackles. He was named the team’s Most Valuable Player this past season.
His decision to enter the draft was not a surprise, but he said it was agonizing.
“There were so many variables, so many unknowns in making a big decision like this, because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” Curran said. “It’s a total leap of faith.
“It’s one thing to say that you’re going to go -– that you’re mentally and physically ready. But it’s another thing to actually take the stand and have the courage to do it and not look back. . . . It was something I really battled with.”
In the end, Curran said an accumulation of factors convinced him the time was right to end his UGA career: the need to financially support his 1-year-old daughter, the loss of other key defensive players, the likely change of defensive scheme with a new coordinator, and the recognition that the biggest knock against his NFL potential (his height, generously listed at 5-11) wouldn’t change with another year of college.
“Those were some of the things I wrote down on my list of pros and cons,” Curran said, “and my reasons to go outweighed my reasons to stay, even though I love Georgia.”
He is the second starter on Georgia’s 2009 defense to announce he is entering the NFL draft early, following junior safety Reshad Jones. Georgia also is losing two other starters in the secondary and the top three defensive tackles off the ‘09 team to graduation.
Curran said he considered delaying his decision until a new defensive coordinator is hired, which could be as soon as Monday, but concluded he’d make the same choice no matter who the hire.
He wouldn’t disclose the round in which the NFL advisory board projects him to be drafted, but said it is “good enough” to justify the decision. He is counting on a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine late next month to boost his stock.
“I’m going to have to really knock out the Combine,” he said, “but I feel like the sky is the limit. I just have to get one team to like me.”
Said Richt: “I think Rennie will do well. He’s a tackling machine. He always has been. I don’t care what level of ball he plays at, he’s going to be that torpedo that can hit. I just want to tell him thanks for everything he did for us.”