By Robert Weintraub
On Tuesday, Georgia hired Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to replace outgoing coordinator Todd Grantham. As a straight trade, it's roughly comparable to swapping George McClellan for Ulysses S. Grant.
There have been few optimistic moments for Bulldogs fans of late, so the news that the man in charge of a championship defense is replacing a coach many locals wanted fired came as a welcome post-holiday gift to Bulldog Nation. The hiring of Pruitt came so swiftly after Grantham left that many didn't have time to process the rather extraordinary details of Grantham's departure.
Grantham wasn't fired by Georgia; instead, he was bolting to take the same job at Louisville, for a guaranteed five-year, $5 million dollar contract (Pruitt, amazingly enough, was reportedly signed for less, about $850,000 per annum, or what UGA was paying Grantham).
Well, as they say around these parts, butter my butt and call me a biscuit. Jaws hit the floor all across the Peach State. A million a year for that guy?
Keep in mind that Grantham's defense gave up 29 points per game this season, good for 10th in the SEC. Yes, the Dawgs had a young and raw, if highly talented and heavily recruited, set of defenders in 2013. Still, the unit went from fourth in the conference in total defense in 2011 to sixth in '12, and eighth in '13. You don't need a Wharton MBA to decipher that trend on the graph.
Forgetting the numbers for a minute, the unavoidable perception was that Georgia's talent on that side of the ball clearly wasn't matching the performance. In 2012, the unit sent Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Bacarri Rambo, Cornelius Washington, John Jenkins and Shawn Williams onto the field every Saturday. That's just the guys who were drafted and made NFL rosters this fall. Yet the unit got pushed around by every good offense it played.
And of course, this season there was this.
Yet Grantham not only didn't pay a price for this underwhelm -- he got a raise.
Incredible as it may seem, there is an even bigger example of the Peter Principle on Louisville's staff (and we're not even getting into newly hired head coach Bobby Petrino, who may an execrable human being but at least has proven his worth as a coach). Garrick McGee is the newly installed offensive coordinator under Petrino, which is the pigskin equivalent of relocation into the Witness Protection Program. McGee spent the last two seasons head coaching at Alabama-Birmingham, aka the program that Feinbaum forgot. He followed up a 3-9 debut campaign by going 2-10 this season. His final game this year was a 62-27 thumping at the hands of Southern Miss (the Eagles' only win since 2011).
Incredibly enough, McGee wasn't canned by the Blazers -- he jilted them. He also skipped out on the team meeting announcing his move to the players, in so doing endearing him to his new boss, who pulled a similar bail job from the Atlanta Falcons a few years back.
McGee's abandoning of the ship wasn't totally unexpected, as he was on the Arkansas staff under Petrino before Bobby jumped on his motorcycle. But whatever happened to football being a results-based business? Especially in the college game, it appears more than ever that who you know is much more important than what you do.
In this climate, even Kevin Ramsey, who was so incompetent as UGA defensive coordinator in 1999 that he allegedly was relieved of his duties at halftime of the bowl game and subsequently supposedly punched out Bulldogs head coach Jim Donnan, could land a new gig (with a higher salary, natch) within 48 hours.
Another example was seen in, of all places, Tuscaloosa. Alabama under Nick Saban is seemingly a place where Darwin's postulate that only the strong survive is carved into the tunnel at Bryant-Denny Stadium so everyone can see it on game days. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who certainly did a creditable job in his two seasons with AJ McCarron & Co., was lured away for big money by Michigan, a program desperate for a return to prominence (the hire created a weird scene, as Nussmeier was given a hero's welcome in Ann Arbor, while head coach Brady Hoke was shunted off to the side, apparently already a lame duck).
So what brilliant offensive mind did Alabama turn to in order to fill the void, and at the same time counter the explosive creativity going on across the state in the Loveliest Village on the Plains?
Would you believe Lane Kiffin?
Yes, that Lane Kiffin.
Apparently, Rich Kotite turned Nick down.
"I've known him for a long time," Saban said of Kiffin after the hiring was confirmed. "I always thought he was a really good coach. All his issues come from something we're not asking him to do."
If you're asking Kiffin to be within a country mile of a ball crafted from leather and sewn together with protruding laces, then his "issues" will have an effect on your organization.
Saban made these comments after addressing the annual convention of the American Football Coaches Association, whose 4,000 members immediately asked Saban why they didn't get the gig, given the apparent standards involved in getting it. It should be noted that Kiffin was brought in at first merely to "consult" with the Crimson Tide before its appearance in the Sugar Bowl. You will recall how that game went. For all those eagerly awaiting the day when Saban's arrogance would bring him down from the mountaintop, that day may well be nigh.
Fortunately, not all coaches are failing upward. Certainly the two big hires of the offseason, Charlie Strong at Texas and James Franklin at Penn State, are not only worthy on their face but also are encouraging in a larger sense. Both Franklin and (especially) Strong were passed over in years past in favor of buddy-buddy arrangements like the ones that saw Kiffin land in Alabama, or simply the system that seems to favor the retread over the fresh face, especially if that face is African-American.
That a pair of such deserving minority candidates were actually given these prominent jobs speaks well to those programs, and maybe, just maybe, will dispel some of the coaching cronyism that has raised so many eyebrows since the last game in BCS history was played.
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Robert Weintraub is the author of the books The Victory Season and The House That Ruth Built. He writes regularly for The New York Times, ESPN.com, Football Outsiders, CJR, Slate and many others. Follow him on Twitter @robwein.