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Murphy: Grantham's departure a blessing for Bulldogs

POSTED: January 13, 2014 8:12 p.m.

On Sunday, the bombshell news hit that Georgia’s defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was checking out and heading to join the staff of Bobby Petrino at Louisiville.

As of Monday afternoon, I’ve yet to hear of anyone that tried to talk the man, who was thought a wizard for his 3-4 scheme when he came to Athens in 2010, out of making this decision.

For the price tag that came attached to Grantham ($850,000 a year), the Bulldogs can do much, much better.

To be fair, Grantham’s defenses at Georgia had some moments of glory. In 2011, the Bulldogs were one of the best defensively in just Grantham’s second year on the job. However, the past two seasons, his unit fell off dramatically. This year, Georgia’s defense struggled in big games and ranked in the bottom half in most categories of the Southeastern Conference.

The tipping point for many came in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day when the Bulldogs’ secondary was torched by Nebraska backup quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. on a third-down, 99-yard touchdown pass play, and never regained momentum in a 24-19 loss.

Grantham also drew the ire of Georgia fans by letting Georgia Tech get up 20-0 very early in this season’s game in Atlanta, along with losing on the road to Vanderbilt.

You get the point. Georgia fans didn’t have to go far for ammunition to use against Grantham: a defensive coordinator that arrived in Athens with a tide of support, but lost the majority of that goodwill way too soon with a bad on-field attitude and defense that was scorched time and time again.

Even with enjoyable wins in 2013 against LSU, South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida, the defense always seemed like a liability with players out of position and far too many rushing yards allowed.

We don’t need to revisit all the depressing failures of the Bulldogs’ defense the past two seasons — despite constantly producing top-level NFL talent — to validate his departure as a good thing. Anyone that watched Georgia play — which I presume is most of you reading this — knew it was time for a change.

From everything I’ve read, Georgia coach Mark Richt was probably surprised by Grantham’s quick decision. The Bulldogs’ underachieving defensive coordinator will receive a five-year, five-million dollar deal to partner with Petrino in Louisville.

It leaves the Bulldogs with a big vacancy during the tail end of the recruiting season for the Class of 2014. While it doesn’t appear that any on Georgia’s top verbal commits have been impacted by Grantham’s decision, it could turn out to be a huge factor for top prospects still on the radar, such as Norcross High’s five-star defensive linemen, Lorenzo Carter.

On top of finding a new defensive coach, Georgia also has to replace secondary coach Scott Lakatos, who resigned last week. Defensive line coach Chris Wilson has been reported to have interviewed for the same position Monday with Alabama.

Since there’s only three weeks until National Signing Day and eight weeks until the beginning of spring practice, Richt will have to act fast to keep things from snowballing into complete panic mode.

The good thing for Georgia’s defense is that there’s so much talent for the new coordinator to mold and shape into a top-tier unit nationally.

All three levels are stacked with talent for Georgia, including but not limited to linebackers Ramik Wilson, Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd, and Ray Drew and East Hall grad Sterling Bailey on the defensive front.

Richt will have so many top-notch defensive coordinators drooling to work with that kind of talent, that fans on the fence about Grantham’s departure will be over his departure by the time he unpacks in Kentucky.

By now, we’ve all heard the names rumored to be interested, or targeted, for the job as defensive coordinator in Athens. Every Georgia fan would love to lure Kirby Smart back where he played college ball and away from Nick Saban at Alabama.

Others rumored to be on the list are Manny Diaz (formerly at Texas), and Wilson as an inside promotion, should he not jump to the Tide.

Whoever gets the job, he’ll be able to start in March with a group eager to improve.

Talent is very strong with Georgia. There’s no excuse for it not to be one of the best defenses in the nation.

Bill Murphy is a sports writer for The Times. He can be reached at bmurphy@gainesvilletimes.com.


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