- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt had no connection to the SEC when he became Georgia’s head coach in 2001, but he knew better than to let the same be said of his coaching staff. Nearly half of Richt’s first staff had SEC experience -- and Richt readily admits that was by design.
In defensive line coach Rodney Garner, he had not only a former All-SEC player and coach at Auburn and Tennessee, he had a well-connected recruiting coordinator who helped keep Richt’s first signing class intact.
In Neil Callaway, he hired a hard-nosed offensive line coach who played under Bear Bryant at Alabama and coached under Pat Dye at multiple stops including Auburn.
In Mike Bobo, he added a young former Georgia quarterback whose father built a decades-long reputation as a football coach within the state.
And in Jon Fabris, he had a live wire who brought intensity to each practice after playing in the league at Ole Miss and coaching at multiple stops, including South Carolina.
Over the last 13 years, Richt has developed plenty of experience in the league, leading the Bulldogs to two SEC titles and five Eastern Division crowns. Throughout that time, however, the SEC presence has remained on his staff.
Bobo is the lone holdover from Richt’s first batch of hirings, but he now has company from another former Georgia player, running backs coach Bryan McClendon, and a number of other assistants who have played and coached in the league.
Offensive line coach Will Friend was an All-SEC performer at Alabama and once served as a UGA graduate assistant under Richt. New defensive line coach Chris Wilson came to Georgia in the offseason after a stint as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. And while he never coached in the SEC prior to becoming the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator in 2010, Todd Grantham worked under the league’s current kingpin, Nick Saban, as an assistant at Michigan State.
In other words, it isn’t necessary to hire a head coach with SEC ties for the coaching staff to still have the league’s distinct flavor. Richt was an up-and-coming Florida State coordinator who ran a high-scoring finesse offense when he accepted the Georgia job and yet his collection of assistants included tough coaches who cut their teeth in the SEC, helping mold differing philosophies into a winning combination.
Few programs have won more consistently than Georgia since Richt took over as the Bulldogs’ head coach, so previous SEC experience might be slightly overrated as a predictor of future success in the league. Richt’s tenure might never have gotten off the ground, however, if he hadn’t initially hired some coaches who understood the SEC’s physical demands and who already developed key recruiting contacts within the state and region.
Multiple philosophical changes that Richt instituted played some part in Georgia’s sustained success, but his tendency to hire coaches who already have a lay of the land within the nation’s most competitive football conference has been one of the most important stabilizing factors of his tenure.