Georgia’s Smart faces former assistant Lanning in season opener

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

ATHENS, Ga. — When you build a powerhouse program, it’s inevitable that others will try to copy your success.

That means hiring people who work for you.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart will see another familiar face on the opposing sideline when the reigning national champion Bulldogs open the season against No. 11 Oregon.

Smart’s former defensive coordinator, Dan Lanning, is now guiding the Ducks. In his head coaching debut, he’ll take on the No. 3 Bulldogs in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta.

“There’s definitely some feelings of excitement for me to go play a team I care about and was a big part of for a long time,” Lanning said. “But that’s not the focus. My job, as well as the players’ job, is to focus on the task at hand.”

As Smart heads into his seventh season as the Bulldogs’ boss, the list of assistants-turned-head coaches is growing.

He is 2-0 against his ex-offensive line coach, Arkansas’ Sam Pittman, and last year beat South Carolina’s Shane Beamer, who was on Smart’s staff in 2016 and ’17.

Now, the 36-year-old Lanning will become the third of Smart’s former staffers to take a shot at knocking off the old boss.

There won’t be a bunch of warm, fuzzy feelings at the reunion.

“I don’t think the game has anything to do with that,” Smart said. “Neither Dan nor I will be worried about each other during the game.”

The opener, which will be played before what figures to be a very pro-Georgia crowd at 75,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will be an early indicator of where both programs stand.

Georgia is looking to make another run at the national championship despite losing a record 15 players in the NFL draft – five of them first-rounders off a stellar defensive unit that carried the Bulldogs to their first title since 1980.

With the Pac-12 in turmoil and speculation that they could soon be headed to the Big Ten, the Ducks hope to build on the success they had during Mario Cristobal‘s four-year tenure, which featured a pair of conference championships.

When Cristobal left for Miami, the Ducks quickly turned to Georgia’s co-defensive coordinator.

They made a good choice, according to Smart, whose relationship with Lanning goes back to 2015 when both were on Nick Saban‘s staff at Alabama.

“I had a great relationship with Dan when he worked at University of Alabama, and had a lot of respect for how he went about doing his job,” Smart said. “He didn’t try to be somebody he wasn’t. He didn’t try to impress people. He just worked and he grinded, and he really did a good job of just doing what you asked him to do. I always thought he would be successful.”

When Smart left for his first head coaching job at Georgia in 2016, he kept an eye on Lanning. The Bulldogs had an opening on their staff two years later and hired him as the outside linebackers coach.

“It ended up being a no-brainer for us to bring Danny in because I knew the value he had,” Smart recalled.

Lanning was promoted to co-defensive coordinator a year later after Mel Tucker left for Colorado, receiving much of the credit for building one of college football’s greatest defenses.

“I knew he was going to do a great job,” Smart said.

Lanning’s co-coordinator, Glenn Schumann, is still at Georgia. He’ll continue in that role along with former Florida and South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp.

Smart said it’s been a smooth transition, especially because Muschamp was already on the staff as special teams coordinator.

“Dan would be the first to tell you he never would’ve had the success he had here if not for Glenn Schumann,” Smart said. “I felt comfortable Glenn would be able to take it over along with Will. It’s great when we have two guys that know the system and two guys that can share that responsibility.”

Before he even coached a game, Lanning had to deal with tragedy within his new team.

Tight end and social media star Spencer Webb died last month in an accidental fall at a popular swimming lake. The Ducks will wear a special decal on their helmets this season featuring Webb’s No. 4 inside a spider web.

“Our team has a void,” Lanning said. “It’s something you certainly cannot replace. I’ve talked to our players about that moment and Spencer, how on your tombstone there’s a day you were born and a day when you passed, but what made Spencer special was how he lived that dash in between those two numbers.”

In addition to an entirely new coaching staff, the Ducks have a bunch of newcomers on their roster. They brought in 21 players through the transfer portal, 15 of them from Power Five schools.

Lanning has plenty of familiarity with Georgia’s defense.

Of course, that works both ways.

“Kirby Smart is not going to play a single snap on Saturday, and neither is Dan Lanning,” the Oregon coach said. “It doesn’t really matter what I know. It’s what my players know and how well they can execute.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.