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Mark Bradley

Would Smart come to UGA as coach-in-waiting?

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This HCIW worked out OK. (AP photo/Julio Cortez)

Kirby Smart is the obvious choice, the popular choice … heck, the smart choice. He played at Georgia. He has won national championships as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. If the Bulldogs could hire him to replace Todd Grantham, it would be the biggest “get” for Georgia since the guy from Wrightsville signed his letter-of-intent on Easter Sunday 1980.

But here’s the thing: Smart rejected a similar offer from Georgia in January 2010. If now isn’t any different from then, why would his answer bedifferent?

The only way I can see Smart leaving Tuscaloosa for Athens is if the Bulldogs would make him head-coach-in-waiting for when Mark Richt chooses to retire, and I’m leery about those HCIW things. James Franklin was HCIW to Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, but Friedgen wasn’t ready to leave and the Terrapins weren’t ready to fire him and Franklin got an offer from Vanderbilt. Only then did Friedgen get pushed aside, which is how Maryland wound up with Randy Edsall.

Will Muschamp, another Georgia alum, was HCIW to Mack Brown at Texas, but Florida offered to make him head coach in the here and now. So he upped sticks for Gainesville, and three years on there’s no compelling evidence that Muschamp is much of a head coach. That’s the catch with HCIWs: They tend to be career assistants who’ve never run a program, and there’s a difference between being a coordinator and a Head Ball Coach.

For the record, the man whose team just won the national championship was HCIW to Bobby Bowden at Florida State, but even that got ugly. Bowden tried to hold on when it was clear his program had reached the point of diminishing returns, and Jimbo Fisher wound up inheriting a team — and a fan base — torn between the old and the new.

Which brings us to the greater point: There would be no reason for Smart to take an offer as Georgia’s HCIW if he’s given indication that Richt planned to stick around longer than a couple of more years. Richt has offered no clue that he’s anywhere near ready to leave, at at 53 he’s no senior citizen.

Nick Saban, Smart’s current employer, is 62. The Alabama chair is apt — though not guaranteed — to come open first. Georgia is a great job, one of the 10 best, but Bama would be at worst the second-best job (behind Texas) in the nation.

And if you’re Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity, do you really want your program to appear to be easing out Richt before he’s prepared to step away? Because that’s what the announcement of Kirby Smart as HCIW would do: It would start the countdown clock on the man who’s the second-best coach in Bulldog history. That wouldn’t be good for anyone.

Another hitch: As noted by Jake Rowe of Rivals on Twitter, the NCAA moved in 2010 to restrict designated HCIWs to one off-campus recruiting visit per prospect. If your defensive coordinator — by definition one of your highest-profile recruiters — is so limited, is it worth having a designated HCIW at all? And if the title was only understood, would that be concrete enough for Smart, who clearly wants to be a head coach soon?

Yet another: If Georgia would hire Smart with the understanding, tacit or otherwise, that he’d succeed Richt, how would offensive coordinator Mike Bobo — who’s a former teammate and a close friend of Smart’s and has served under Richt since 2001 — react?

In sum, it’s hard to envision a HCIW scenario that works. The only way Kirby Smart will become Georgia’s defensive coordinator is if he decides he absolutely wants to be Georgia’s defensive coordinator.

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