(Updated 7 p.m.)
Athens – He last coached on the college level in 1998. He’ll make more money than Georgia has ever paid an assistant coach. He’ll change the Bulldogs’ defensive alignment to a 3-4.
He is Todd Grantham, and he is the answer to the question that dogged Georgia fans for 43 days: Who would coach Mark Richt hire as defensive coordinator?
“We have our man,” Richt said Friday as he named Grantham, the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive line coach, to fill the job that had been open since the Dec. 2 firing of Willie Martinez.
Grantham was known to have been on Richt’s radar for weeks, but at least three other candidates declined the job before it was offered to him. On Thursday night, Grantham accepted the same deal that Alabama defensive coordinator and former Georgia player Kirby Smart rejected three days earlier: a three-year, $750,000-per-year contract.
That salary will make Grantham the third highest-paid defensive coordinator in college football, behind only USC’s Monte Kiffin ($1.2 million plus a $300,000 bonus last season at Tennessee) and Texas’ Will Muschamp ($900,000). Georgia’s highest-paid assistants in 2009, Martinez and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, made $325,000 each, plus bonuses.
Grantham, 43, was an assistant coach at Virginia Tech and Michigan State in the 1990s but has spent the past 11 seasons in the NFL, including the past two with Dallas. His only previous experience as a coordinator was with the Cleveland Browns from 2005-07.
Grantham will begin work at Georgia when Dallas’ season ends. The Cowboys play Sunday at Minnesota in an NFL playoff game.
By phone from Dallas late Friday afternoon, Grantham took a break from preparing for the Vikings to discuss his new job and new team.
He said Georgia will switch from its traditional 4-3 base defense to the 3-4, meaning three linemen and four linebackers rather than vice versa.
“We’re going to an aggressive style 3-4,” he said.
He said two outside linebackers “are going to be coming … are going to be developed as pass rushers.” Two inside linebackers, he said, are “going to be downhill guys to the ball.”
Although the 3-4 will become the base defense, Grantham said the Dogs will use “multiple” defenses “to have the ability to match [the offense's] personnel.”
The end result, he said, will be “an aggressive, physical, attacking-style defense.”
Grantham, who has coached the defensive line for most of his career, said he’ll work instead with the linebackers at Georgia. He said that’s a good role for a coordinator because the linebackers coach spends time on the practice field with both the line and the secondary, depending on the drill.
The only holdover on Georgia’s defensive coaching staff is line coach Rodney Garner. Grantham said they have not met, but “I have heard good things about him, and I expect to be meeting him shortly.”
Two openings remain on the defensive staff — Richt fired three coaches last month — but Grantham said no decisions have been made on who will be hired for those spots.
“Coach Richt and I will be working this weekend and next week to try to iron some of those things out,” he said.
Grantham’s hire capped an arduous process in which Richt was rejected by three highly respected defensive coordinators: Virginia Tech’s Bud Foster, LSU’s John Chavis and Smart. Richt said Grantham, whom he did not know when the search began, was recommended highly by many other coaches during the protracted process. One known to have recommended him was Foster.
After Smart turned down the job Monday, Richt turned the focus to Grantham.
“The overriding factor throughout the entire process is I was very prayerful that in the end we got the right man for the job. And that’s exactly what happened,” Richt said. “It was not something I was trying to do at breakneck speed.
“Sometimes it’s easy to just get a person who is willing to come at the drop of a hat, but when you’re looking at the quality we were looking for, such as Todd, it doesn’t always happen overnight. I’m just thankful we stayed the course and ended up where we ended up.
“I really feel like we hit the jackpot,” he added.
Richt’s six-week search for a defensive coordinator generated extraordinary interest among Georgia fans who have been concerned about the play of the Bulldogs’ defense the past two years. The Bulldogs allowed 34 or more points in 10 of 26 games over those seasons — a culture shock for a program once known for stout defense.
“I think … we can get the defense back to the way it has been in the past,” Grantham said.