During the past few weeks, Georgia fans have been worried sick that the lure of the National Football League would be too much for a couple of their key underclassmen.
As many as four Georgia players were taking a serious look at making the jump to pro ball. When the dust settled, UGA had lost All-American safety Thomas Davis and speedy linebacker Odell Thurman. Max Jean-Gilles and Gerald Anderson chose to remain in Athens.
The loss of Davis and Thurman, while huge, was expected. Davis is projected as the top safety in the draft, and Thurman's speed makes him a possible first-round pick as well.
Georgia's biggest loss to the NFL, however, came earlier this past week when defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder chose to leave UGA for a job as linebackers coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
There was plenty of speculation early on as to why VanGorder would leave the Bulldogs.
He had built UGA's defense into one of the finest in the country in his four years there. He transformed himself from a virtual unknown to one of the most highly coveted assistants in college football. His defenses consistently have been ranked among the nation's best, and he was the winner of the 2003 Frank Broyles Award as college football's top assistant coach.
Also, VanGorder was one of the highest paid assistants in the nation, with an annual salary of $210,000. He was one of only five assistants in college football to have a multiyear contract. So it was no shock that when head coach Mark Richt was given the news VanGorder was leaving for the NFL, he quickly offered his defensive coordinator a raise.
VanGorder apparently informed Richt that money was not the issue and his mind was made up. VanGorder wants to be a head coach, and he felt NFL experience would speed that process along. At a Monday news conference he told the media that his salary was slightly higher than his deal with UGA. But he re-emphasized that money was not the issue.
Georgia will replace VanGorder with defensive backs coach Willie Martinez. Martinez, ironically enough, was the defensive coordinator at Central Florida and VanGorder was one of his assistants.
I'm sure Martinez will be fine, but the Dogs will miss VanGorder.
During Richt's tenure in Athens, Georgia's defense has carried the team often. Also, with David Pollack graduating to the NFL, they will be without the best defensive player to ever play in Athens.
Remember, they've also got the losses of Davis and Thurman to overcome. This year more than any would have been the one Georgia needed VanGorder. Don't get me wrong; UGA should still be a premiere team in the Southeastern Conference. But I have a feeling they will miss the youth and enthusiasm VanGorder brought to the table.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.