ATLANTA — After 15 years under Mark Richt’s leadership, Georgia is set to begin 2016 with a new head coach.
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who replaced Richt on Dec. 6, will be on campus after coaching next Monday’s national title game against Clemson.
Smart already has one big goal accomplished after quarterback Jacob Eason, one of the nation’s top recruits, decided to keep his commitment and enroll at Georgia this month.
“I’m working on recruiting for the University of Georgia full-time,” Smart said. “That’s my heart and passion now. When I get back over to Tuscaloosa and I put on my other hat — I promise you that I’ll be working as hard as I can to win a national championship.”
Richt had a career record of 145-51 but he won only two conference titles and none since 2005. He went 5-10 against Florida, the last two losses costing the Bulldogs a spot in the SEC championship game.
Richt suffered a big blow when running back Nick Chubb, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, had season-ending knee surgery after going down in the Oct. 10 loss at Tennessee.
It marked the second straight year that the Bulldogs, who lost Todd Gurley to a four-game suspension for signing autographs in 2014, were without their best player during the second full month of the season.
Richt’s offense couldn’t overcome substandard play at quarterback. The unit struggled in its only season under coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Former coordinator and longtime Georgia assistant Mike Bobo, now head coach at Colorado State, was clearly missed.
Smart will be expected to get even with Florida. Richt went 5-10 against the Gators, the last two losses costing Georgia an appearance in the SEC title game. The Bulldogs have lost 20 of the last 26 in the series.
Georgia’s bowl win likely won’t have much effect on next season.
Bryan McClendon was the interim coach in Georgia’s TaxSlayer Bowl win over Penn State and has left to join the new staff at South Carolina.
Schottenheimer and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt didn’t work the game. Pruitt is back on staff at Alabama as Smart’s eventual replacement. Schottenheimer is looking for a job.
Smart is busy preparing for the national championship, but he attended the bowl game briefly in Jacksonville, Florida.
Smart’s Georgia connections run deep. He grew up in South Georgia, starred at Bainbridge High School and lettered four years with the Bulldogs, earning first-team All-SEC honors as a senior.
He coached on Georgia’s staff in 1999 and 2005.
Smart has yet to hire a new defensive coordinator. Jim Chaney left Pittsburgh as offensive coordinator last month to work in the same capacity for Smart.
Standout defensive player Leonard Floyd is likely to apply early entry to the NFL draft.
Chubb is on target in his rehab and might participate some in practice this spring. Sony Michel, who averaged over 100 yards in his eight games as Chubb’s replacement, also returns.
Georgia opens next season Sept. 3 at the Georgia Dome against North Carolina.
Richt was hired as head coach at Miami a few days after being dismissed.