Georgia’s coaching search could be headed for a swift end, but the school was tight-lipped Wednesday about its progress and scheduled no announcement about who would succeed football coach Mark Richt.
ESPN and the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was Georgia’s selection late Tuesday night. Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity did not reply to an interview request from The Associated Press on the status of the search. Smart’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, could not be reached for comment.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, meanwhile, didn’t take any questions about Smart’s future on Wednesday. However, he did address the reports after Wednesday’s practice, saying, it’s not his “position to confirm any of this stuff, and I really can’t confirm it.
“But I will say this: Kirby has done an outstanding job here for us,” Saban said. “He’s worked really hard to do a great job with our defense for nine years now. I think the guy would, and I’ve said this many times before, do a great job as a head coach.”
After his comments, Saban wanted to make it clear that he would not respond to any questions about Smart. He held up the soft drink sitting on the podium and said: “You can ask the bottle but don’t ask me.”
Saban, however, did offer a hint that Smart might be leaving.
He said he told players they should be happy for a coach who has “worked hard to create another opportunity for himself” and that they’ve been through such coaching changes before.
That group includes Florida coach Jim McElwain, who stuck around through the BCS championship game to end the 2011 season before going to Colorado State.
McGarity on Monday described the search to replace Richt as “wide open,” though Smart is widely considered the leading candidate.
Georgia announced abruptly Sunday that Richt will not return as its football coach. Richt has reached a tentative agreement to coach Miami. He coached for 15 years at Georgia will lead the team in its bowl game following a 9-3 finish to the regular season.
Smart, 39, has a background that should be appealing to Georgia fans. Smart, who grew up in Bainbridge, Georgia, was a four-year letterman as a safety at Georgia from 1995-98. He was an administrative assistant at Georgia in 1999 before returning as running backs coach under Richt for one season in 2005.
Smart was hired by Alabama in 2007 and has been defensive coordinator since 2008.
An official announcement from Georgia could come quickly after the championship game Saturday in Atlanta.
Saban has described Smart as “a good teacher” and said “players respond to him well.”
“He’s outgoing, he’s got a good personality, I think he’ll do a good job in all of the other areas that you’re talking about,” Saban said. “I don’t have any question about that at all.”
Smart would be the latest in Georgia’s tradition of hiring candidates with no experience as a head coach. Vince Dooley, Ray Goff and Richt were assistants when named Georgia’s head coach. The lone recent exception to that trend was Jim Donnan, who was Marshall’s coach when hired to replace Goff following the 1995 season. Richt replaced Donnan before the 2001 season.