(Updated 3:30 p.m.)
Georgia’s football program continued to rebuild its defensive staff today, hiring a veteran assistant coach who will be making a major geographic shift in his career.
Scott Lakatos, hired as Georgia’s defensive-backs coach, has been on the staff at seven other colleges, all in his native Northeast. He was the secondary coach at Connecticut the past six seasons and previously worked at Rutgers, Maine, New Haven, Syracuse, Boston University and Western Connecticut State, his alma mater.
So, you ask, what was the connection that led him from the Northeast to UGA?
“I’m sure there was a little bit of a mystery for everybody to figure that out,” Lakatos said this afternoon.
The answer: a long friendship with Todd Grantham, hired Friday as the Bulldogs’ new defensive coordinator.
Lakatos said he and Grantham have been good friends for more than 15 years, meeting when Lakatos was a graduate assistant at Syracuse and Grantham a young coach at Virginia Tech.
“Over time, we’ve always stayed in contact,” Lakatos said. “We have similar philosophies and similar ideas defensively and finally have an opportunity to work together. I’m pretty excited about it.”
Grantham recommended Lakatos to Georgia coach Mark Richt, who had never met Lakatos until this past weekend. By Monday morning, Richt had offered –- and Lakatos had accepted -– a job as the Bulldogs’ defensive-backs coach. He’ll work under a one-year contract and be paid a salary of $180,000.
That represents a $50,000 raise from what Lakatos made at Connecticut last year, according to USA Today’s database of coaches’ salaries. In 2009, a $180,000 salary would have ranked sixth highest among Georgia’s nine assistant coaches.
Lakatos (pronounced LACK-ah-tose) had more than Grantham to recommend him for the job. He also had some impressive results as Connecticut’s defensive-backs coach.
The Huskies ranked in the nation’s top 10 in pass-efficiency defense in three of the past five seasons, although they fell to 85th in 2009 after losing two starters in the secondary to the NFL. A starting cornerback, Jasper Howard, was stabbed to death on campus in October.
In what turned out to be Lakatos’ last game on the Connecticut staff, the Huskies defeated an SEC team -– South Carolina –- 20-7 in the Papajohn’s.com Bowl, holding Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia to 16 completions in 38 attempts for 129 yards passing.
Although Lakatos, 44, has never lived or worked outside the Northeast, he said he jumped at the Georgia offer.
“Being a football coach, I think we’d all like to have opportunities to get ourselves involved in what could be considered the best programs, where we have an opportunity to compete against the best people and get in the best conference and recruit the best players,” he said. “I mean, that’s what we all try to do. So when this opportunity came up, there really wasn’t any hesitation at all.”
He said the South’s “passion for football” is “very exciting to me.”
Lakatos has “an outstanding resume of success” and “will bring a great deal of experience and expertise” to Georgia’s staff, Richt said in a statement.
The hires of Grantham and Lakatos leave one opening on Georgia’s defensive staff. Richt fired three defensive coaches in December.
While Grantham replaced the fired Willie Martinez as defensive coordinator, Grantham replaces Martinez as defensive-backs coach. Grantham will work with linebackers. It is not clear how Richt will define the duties of the final hire.
Other than Richt, whom he just met, and Grantham, Lakatos doesn’t know any of the coaches on Georgia’s staff.
“I’m definitely the new guy,” he said.
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