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.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.