Bulldogs get their man, hiring Kirby Smart to replace Richt

In this Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015 photo, Alabama head coach Nick Saban, left, speaks with Defensive Coach Kirby Smart during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Atlanta. Georgia hired Smart as its new head coach on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, hoping he can accomplish what been routine for the Crimson Tide but eluded Mark Richt during his 15 years between the hedges. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
In this Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015 photo, Alabama head coach Nick Saban, left, speaks with Defensive Coach Kirby Smart during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Atlanta. Georgia hired Smart as its new head coach on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, hoping he can accomplish what been routine for the Crimson Tide but eluded Mark Richt during his 15 years between the hedges. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia has its new football coach.

It may be a while before he’s a full-time employee.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was set to be introduced Monday as the successor to Mark Richt, who held the job for 15 years but didn’t win enough championships to satisfy the Bulldog faithful.

Smart, who turns 40 two days before Christmas, was expected to remain at Alabama through the College Football Playoff, though the issue wasn’t addressed specifically when Georgia announced the hiring on Sunday.

The Crimson Tide will face Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Eve, with the winner advancing to the national championship game on Jan. 11. That means it could be more than a month before Smart fully takes over at his new job.

“We’ve still got some unfinished business,” linebacker Ryan Anderson said after Alabama’s victory in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

Bryan McClendon, who was Richt’s assistant head coach and also works with the receivers, will serve as Georgia’s interim head coach during the Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl against Penn State in Jacksonville, Fla. The other assistant coaches are staying on as well.

Alabama coach Nick Saban would surely be willing to carve out time for Smart to handle some of his Georgia duties, such as recruiting and putting together a staff. The situation is hardly unprecedented — a year ago, Tom Herman stuck around as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator through the playoff, helping the Buckeyes win the national title. Clearly, it didn’t hurt him at his new job as Houston’s head coach. This season, the Cougars went 12-1, won the American Athletic Conference and earned a spot in the Peach Bowl.

Saban made it clear that he believes Smart is ready to lead his own program after 17 years as an assistant at various schools, including a one-year stint as Georgia’s running backs coach in 2005.

“He’s really, really appreciated for his hard work and the contribution he’s made to all of the success that we’ve had here,” Saban said. “Not only in the good coaching and development of players, but the kind of person he is, the kind of recruiter he is, and the kind of team player he is. I couldn’t be happier for someone who is very deserving of an opportunity like this one.”

Georgia dumped Richt less than 24 hours after a victory over Georgia Tech capped a 9-3 regular season. He has already taken a job as Miami’s coach — like Smart, returning to his alma mater.

Smart played at Georgia in the 1990s and has been Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama since 2008. The new coach was widely regarded as one of the top assistants in the country, with Alabama perennially ranking among the top defensive teams in the country.

“I’m deeply appreciative … to lead one of the truly great college football programs in the country,” Smart said in a statement.

When Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity decided to make a change, it was clear that Smart was his top choice.

“It was critical to identify a person who would focus on a specific, defined process of developing championship football teams on and off the playing field,” McGarity said. “Someone who competed at the highest levels on the playing field, was mentored by some of the very best in the game, and understood the specific ingredients necessary to excel at the highest levels of college athletics.”

Smart headed straight to Athens after Alabama’s victory in the SEC championship game in Atlanta. He was interviewed Sunday morning by university President Jere Morehead, the final step before the athletic association ratified McGarity’s choice.

Smart agreed to a six-year contract that will pay him at least $3.75 million a year, with a base salary of $400,000 and $3.35 million from apparel deals, television and radio appearances, and other endorsements.

He also could earn performance bonuses of up to $1.6 million if the Bulldogs win a national championship. In addition, the deal includes such perks as $1,800 a month to purchase or lease up to two cars and up to $5,000 a year to cover insurance on the vehicles. If Smart took another job, he would owe the university anywhere from the full value of his deal in the first year to just the current base salary should he depart in Year 6.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

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AP College Football website: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org

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