The Good, the Bad, and the Bald: Past Defensive Coordinators at UGA

Chip CuringtonContributor IDecember 11, 2009

Since 1964, there have been nine men who have filled the spot of defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia. With the recent firing of Willie Martinez, and that all important position waiting to be filled, here is a look back at some of the great, and not so great, coaches who filled those shoes.



The Good

Brian Van Gorder (2001-2004)

The defense played an important role in resurgence of the Bulldogs as an SEC contender under Mark Richt. In his four seasons at Georgia, the Bulldogs defense allowed just 16.17 points per game. Only once did an opponent score over 30 points in a game. Van Gorder was known for his fiery presence and game-time adjustments. He brought an aggressive, swarming style of defense. Since leaving Georgia, he has seen his share of the world. U-Haul reportedly named him "Customer of the Decade."

Best Moments: ‘02 Georgia Tech 51-7; ‘02 SEC Championship Arkansas 30-3

Worst Moments: ‘03 SEC Championship LSU 34-13; leaving Athens, leaving Jacksonville, leaving Statesboro, leaving Atlanta, leaving Colombia, possibly leaving Atlanta again.


Bill Lewis (1982-1988)

As is the case for most coordinators, they are often remembered as much for certain bad plays as they are for their entire body of work. Bill Lewis will always be remembered as the guy who blitzed Pitt’s Dan Marino on 4th-and-5 with 42 seconds left and Georgia leading 20-17 in the 1982 Sugar Bowl game. The rest is history. In the end, it may not have cost Georgia another National Championship, but it sealed Lewis’ memory in the mind of Dawg fans. Lewis’ defenses allowed just 15.52 points per game. Overall, he wasn’t a bad defensive coordinator; he just had occasional lapses in judgment. After all, he did take the head coaching position at Georgia Tech, which is worse than blitzing Dan Marino.

Best Moments: ’82 Auburn 19-14 (Munson’s "Look at the sugar falling outta the sky" call); ’84 Cotton Bowl Texas 10-9 (Held the Horns to three FGs, what time is it in Dallas?)

Worst Moments: ‘82 Sugar Bowl Pitt 24-20; ‘83 Sugar Bowl Penn State 27-23; Coaching at Georgia Tech


Joe Kines (1995-1998)

Alright, maybe there should be a fourth category: the mediocre. Kines was brought in by Ray Goff and was retained by Jim Donnan. There was nothing really spectacular about Kines’ defenses, but there was nothing overtly horrible about them either. It was the perfect bend-but-don’t-break defense. Only sometimes, it would break and sometimes it wouldn’t. Kines was seen as an improvement from his predecessors, but it wasn’t enough for Donnan to retain him as coordinator in 1999. He had the added benefit of sounding like a defensive coordinator should sound. Sounded like gravel.

Best Moments: ’97 Florida 37-17; As interim head Coach at Alabama, his halftime interview at the 2006 Poulan Weedeater Bowl is one of the greatest interviews of all-time—see YouTube.

Worst Moments: ’95 Florida at Sanford Stadium 52-17 (Spurrier ran a flea flicker to "hang half a hundred on ‘em") ’95 Alabama 31-0


Gary Gibbs (2000)

Ah, Gary, we hardly knew ya. Caught in the crossfire of Michael Adams and Jim Donnan, Gibbs only stayed at Georgia one year. His defense was much improved from the 1999 Kevin Ramsey debacle. The Georgia defense allowed just 17.67 points per game. There is not a lot of evidence to judge Gibbs one way or the other. It’s hard to blame him for Quincy’s five interception game in the loss to South Carolina, or Donnan’s decision to run the option with Cory Phillips, resulting in a fumble in an overtime loss at Auburn. Still, there is the temptation to put him in the bad category solely on allowing George Godsey, the worst running quarterback in the modern era, to run unscathed through 11 defenders en route to a touchdown in the loss to Tech.

Best Moments: ‘00 Tennessee 21-10 (Best defense may have been keeping the students from tearing the goalposts down before the end of the game)

Worst Moment: ‘00 Tech 27-15 (Memory of the blur of streaking speed that was George Godsey is seared in the mind of the Bulldog Nation)



The Bad

Richard Bell (1989-1993)

Bell’s name will be synonymous with the downfall of Ray Goff. Once again, his body of work was not horrible, but breakdowns at crucial moments cemented his fate as one of the most reviled coaches at Georgia. The saying at Georgia during the Bell years was "Bill Lewis invented the soft defense and Richard Bell perfected it." During his tenure at Georgia, Bell’s defenses allowed 19.90 points per game. However, Georgia fans will always remember him for the "what if’s." In 1992, Tennessee converted on a 4th-and-long on the way to a game-winning touchdown. Later that year in the Florida game, Gator quarterback Shane Matthews scrambled for a first down on 3rd-and-12 late in the game. The Bulldogs had mounted a fierce comeback and had pulled within striking distance at 28-26 when the Gator conversion occurred, driving a nail through the coffin and leaving the Bulldog Nation heartbroken. Richard Bell played the scapegoat and bore the brunt of the blame. Goff stuck with him one more year and then proceeded to make bad things worse.

Best Moments: ’90 Southern Miss (Still can’t believe Bell held Brett Favre to 17 points); ’92 Auburn 14-10 (Although Auburn, the clock, and ole lady luck had a lot to do with that one)

Worst Moments: ’92 Tennessee 34-31 (I will never vote for Heath Shuler); ’92 Florida 28-26


Marion Campbell (1994)

This was Ray Goff’s single worst decision in his coaching career. All the joy that filled every Dawg fans heart with the firing of Richard Bell was sucked dry by the announcement that the ole "Swamp Fox" was coming out of retirement to coach the defense. Another one year wonder, Campbell’s defense gave up 23.42 points per game. The defense consistently blew leads and blew Eric Zeier’s senior season. The 1994 offense was the most prolific of the Goff era. However, the 1994 defense was one of the worst of the Goff years.

Best Moments: ’94 Auburn 23-23; 1949-1951 named All SEC three times (43 years earlier as a player at UGA)

Worst Moments: ’94 Alabama (Made Jay Barker look like Joe Namath) ’94 Vanderbilt 43-30 (Allowed a short, stubby, and blind half back to run for over 300 yards—no kidding, the guy was blind in one eye)


Willie Martinez (2005-2009)

The heat on Martinez may have been unrivaled in the history of Georgia football. Nothing could get a Dawg’s dander up like a wide-open bootleg pass to a wide open receiver seven yards off the line of scrimmage. If Richard Bell perfected the soft defense, Martinez patented it and sold it in bulk. For every good showing, there were some good showings, and there was an equally horrendous one. There were times it seemed no one on the field had a clue as to what it meant to play defense.

The Martinez era followed a distinct pattern of random one half meltdowns. His defenses allowed 20.94 points per game. But in 64 games at the helm, his defense gave up 30 points or more 16 times. The unit gave up 40 or more points seven times in that same span. But what may be more telling is that his defense gave up 32.53 points per game in which Georgia lost. In the end, the bad heavily outweighed the good during his tenure. It would have been interesting to see what the 2007 and 2008 seasons might have been under better defensive supervision.

Best Moments: ’05 Boise State 48-13; ’05 SEC Championship LSU 34-17; ’07 Florida 42-30 (Down goes Tebow again); ’07 Hawaii 41-10 (Colt meet Mr. Howard); ’09 Tech 30-24 (Held Tech to 24 points, Held Tech to no punts and one huge dropped pass...Willie owes Demaryius Thomas big time for that one)

Worst Moments: ’06 Sugar Bowl West Virginia 38-35 (Down 28 points before most Dawg fans had settled in their seats) ’06 Tennessee 51-33 (37 points in the second half); ’07 Tennessee 35-14 (28 points in the first half); ’08 Alabama (Blackout Part Deux—down 31-0 at half); ’09 Florida 49-10 (35 points in the second half); ’08 Tech (Rashad Jones chest bumps Jonathan Dwer, D gives up 33 points in the second half, 26 points in the third quarter alone); ’09 Tennessee 45-19 (Dubbed "The Bootleg Massacre," Jonathon Crompton wins his lone collegiate award-SEC player of the week); ’09 Kentucky (28 points in the second half meltdown, sealed his fate)


Kevin Ramsey (1999)

Willie Martinez can always say at least he was no Kevin Ramsey. In yet another curious hire by a Georgia head coach, Jim Donnan brought in Ramsey, an inexperienced defensive back coach to replace Joe Kines, who remained on the staff as a linebacker coach. This decision probably started the train that rode Donnan out of town. In his one and only year at Georgia, Ramsey’s defense allowed 25.83 points per game. Under Ramsey, the defense was slow to adjust at the beginning of games. After giving up 31 points in the first half to Auburn, Ramsey lost the faith of Donnan and the fans. It was rumored that Donnan allowed Kines to call the second half of the Outback Bowl when, once again, the defense spotted the opponent, this time spotting Purdue 25 points. The end was ugly as well, with some reports saying that punches were thrown in his exit interview with Donnan.

Best Moments: ’99 LSU 23-22 (Thank goodness for Will Witherspoon’s extra long middle finger); His right cross/left uppercut

Worst Moments: ’99 Auburn 38-21; ’99 Tech (It was NOT a fumble); ’00 Outback Bowl Purdue 28-25


The Bald

Erk Russell (1964-1980)

What can you say about the man? He may have been one of the greatest defensive minds in the history of college football. His numbers are staggering, but what is even more amazing is the love and admiration he drew from both players and fans. The perfect combination of teacher, disciplinarian, and motivator, Erk played the ultimate role of defensive coordinator. From the long storied tradition of bloodying his bald head before games to his cigar smoking tales, everything about the man made players want to run through a wall for him. During the Erk era, his defense allowed only 13.86 per game. In 192 games in which he coached at Georgia, his defenses held the opponent to 10 points or under in 84 of those games. His defenses recorded 26 shutouts. He penned the terms "Junkyard Dogs" and "G.A.T.A." In 1980, his last season at Georgia, his defense helped win the National Championship. Then in 1981, he left and took some South Georgia red clay, mixed it with Eagle Creek water, and formed a football program and won National Championships in Statesboro. There is only one category for Erk.

Well, there is the history of the defensive coordinator at Georgia. Word of wisdom to Mark Richt: With your next hire, get one that will go in that good category. Do any of the candidates have a slightly bloodied bald head?


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