One by one they turned him down. First it was Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who declined Georgia coach Mark Richt's offer in December to fill the same role on his staff. Then Richt, who had fired his coordinator, Willie Martinez, after the Bulldogs' disappointing 8--5 season, tried to persuade LSU's John Chavis, Kansas State's Vic Koenning and Alabama's Kirby Smart to come to Athens. They all said, no thanks.
The Dawgs gave up 30 or more points 10 times over the last two years, prompting Richt to go after someone who could turn around the defense and help calm an increasingly restless fan base. After 44 days he finally landed his man—Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Todd Grantham. Having learned the 3--4 scheme when he was an assistant at Michigan State under Nick Saban from 1996 through '98, Grantham is dumping Georgia's 4--3 with one goal in mind: blitz.
"I've known from my days scouting before the NFL draft how athletic Georgia players are," says Grantham, 43. "We're going to do everything we can to disrupt the most important offensive player: the quarterback."
Already Grantham has moved a dozen players in a bid to better fit his personnel. The Dawg most likely to have the biggest impact is 6'3", 260-pound junior Justin Houston, who shifts from end to outside linebacker. Throughout practice Houston, who had a team-high 7½ sacks last fall, has been a pass-rushing force. "Justin is going to be an All-American in this defense," says senior linebacker Demarcus Dobbs.
In addition to Richt, other coaches under fire who are revamping their defenses include:
• Rich Rodriguez, Michigan After finishing eighth in the Big Ten in scoring defense (27.5 points per game), the Wolverines are installing a 3-3-5 alignment. Rodriguez, who is feeling the heat after a 5--7 season and alleged NCAA practice violations, ran the 3-3-5 successfully when he was at West Virginia, and it should be a good fit in Ann Arbor, where the defense is a bit undersized, but the overall speed is excellent.
• Mike Sherman, Texas A&M In January he hired Air Force defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter to take over a unit that surrendered 33.5 points a game last season. Like Grantham, DeRuyter is switching his new charges from a 4--3 to a 3--4. Senior Von Miller, who led the nation in sacks last year with 17 at defensive end, will line up in the Joker position—a roving outside linebacker—and DeRuyter will game-plan to isolate him against offensive tackles. "This defense gives us flexibility to rush six or drop eight into coverage," says Sherman, who is 10--15 in two seasons at A&M. "We're getting better each day, but we've got work to do."
Indeed, for Sherman, Rodriguez and Richt, what's planted this spring may well determine their fates next fall.
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THREE-POINT STANCE Spring Cleaning
Here are three schools with new coaches who have big plans on offense:
1. Notre Dame
Gone with QB Jimmy Clausen is Charlie Weis's pro-style offense. Brian Kelly is implementing his pass-first spread scheme that emphasizes fade and seam routes. The key will be how quickly junior QB Dayne Crist gets comfortable in it.
2. South Florida
Reducing the team's use of the shotgun spread, Skip Holtz is installing more two-back sets, play-action passes and Wildcat formations.
3. Texas Tech
The Red Raiders aren't ditching the Air Raid offense that former coach Mike Leach made famous, but this spring Tommy Tuberville is giving QBs Steven Sheffield(below) and Taylor Potts more freedom to run.
WORKING LIKE DAWGS Grantham (left) has installed a 3--4 to harass QBs—and perhaps give Richt (inset) job security.
KARL ANDERSON/ICON SMI (SHEFFIELD)