Top candidates for Georgia football’s key coaching staff vacancies

After a busy February of coaching changes, Kirby Smart needs to fill two spots on his offensive coaching staff. Running backs coach Dell McGee left for Georgia State's head job and wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon took a job in the NFL.
Pittsburgh Steelers former wide receiver Hines Ward
Pittsburgh Steelers former wide receiver Hines Ward / Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

For years, Nick Saban was the patriarch of college football with a coaching tree that spread all over the country. Now, with Saban settling into his retirement, Kirby Smart appears to be the obvious successor. Kirby will enter his ninth season as Georgia’s head coach in search of his third national championship and programs across the country and even in the NFL want to bottle up a little bit of his magic for themselves. 

Just this month, well after the big names all found a seat in the annual game of coaching musical chairs, two members of Georgia’s staff were poached for promotions. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers grabbed Georgia’s wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Bryan McClendon to coach their receiver room and Georgia State chose Dell McGee as its next head coach after Shawn Elliott left to join Shane Beamer’s staff at South Carolina. 

Now, as Kirby’s coaching tree grows two new branches across the football world, he needs to find replacements for two key spots on his offensive staff. This comes just one year after he was forced to replace Todd Monken with Mike Bobo as his offensive coordinator, and only a few months after Fran Brown took the head job at Syracuse. McGee joins Brown, Sam Pittman, and Dan Lanning as current FBS head coaches who once coached under Kirby at Georgia. Mel Tucker was on that list until last season. 

Saban always made the right hires to fend off the inevitable brain drain that accompanies great success, so if Kirby wants to hold onto the title as college football’s new alpha, then he’ll need great people around him. These are some of the top candidates for the job that could help contend for a national title in Athens in 2024. 

Wide receivers coach

Hines Ward

When thinking about Georgia wide receivers, Hines Ward is one of the first names that comes to mind, so he might be the perfect fit for the coaching staff. Ward has extensive coaching experience that includes working two seasons as an NFL wide receivers coach for the New York Jets and a season as the head coach of an XFL team. 

There’s always a danger in bringing back a former player, maybe the nostalgia overshadows the resume and competency in the decision-making process, but it worked out with Kirby himself and Ward has proven himself to be a capable assistant coach at the collegiate and professional level. 

Joe Cox

It’s the same story for Joe Cox. The former Georgia quarterback should be considered another top candidate for the job, not just because of his connection to the school, but because of his connection with its offensive coordinator. 

Mike Bobo called plays for Cox in his first tenure as Georgia’s OC from 2007-14. Cox played for the Bulldogs from 2006-09. Just this offseason, Cox accepted a position on Lane Kiffin’s staff at Ole Miss as the team’s tight ends coach a lateral move following Saban’s retirement at Alabama where he held the same position for the 2023 season. 

The 37-year-old may not want to make another move in the same offseason, but his loyalty to Athens would likely overrule the allure of working for an innovative offensive coach like Kiffin. 

Brandon Streeter

Instead of going out in search of a former Bulldog player for the role, Kirby could just stay in-house with this hire, like he did when he promoted Kirk Benedict to special teams coordinator after Scott Cochran left the program earlier this month. 

Last March, Georgia hired Streeter, former Clemson offensive coordinator and quarterback, as an offensive analyst, much in the model of Nick Saban’s rehabilitation program he ran in Tuscaloosa for years. This could be the next step in Streeter’s rehabilitation as the wide receivers coach, but more importantly as the team’s passing game coordinator. 

Running backs coach

Jimmy Smith

The nice thing about having an extensive coaching tree is your former assistants can develop their own assistants, which you can then poach and bring to the mothership. That’s what Kirby could do with Smith, who has extension experience as a high school football coach in Atlanta and has served as Sam Pittman’s running backs coach and associate head coach in Arkansas for four years. 

Smith is familiar with the state of Georgia, so he’d be an asset to the staff as a recruiter and Kirby could offer him a life raft to get off Sam Pittman’s sinking ship. 

Jay Boulware

There isn’t much of a connection to make between Jay Boulware and Georgia, but he’s already familiar with the SEC and has extensive experience ranging from Texas to Stanford to Auburn. The reason the 51-year-old ex-offensive lineman may be interesting to Kirby is his background with special teams. 

Among his many offseason coaching staff changes, Kirby had to replace his special teams coordinator, Scott Cochran. Kirk Benedict was elevated to the role, but it wouldn’t hurt to have someone like Boulware, who currently serves as Kentucky’s special teams coordinator as well as its running backs coach, on staff too.