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Smith’s departure didn’t surprise Georgia players

May 13, 1997

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) _ Georgia’s players weren’t surprised when their coach departed to become the head basketball coach at Kentucky.

Now they’re anxious to see who athletic director Vince Dooley brings in as Tubby Smith’s successor.

``It didn’t surprise me at all,″ guard Ray Harrison said Monday following a news briefing at which Dooley said the process of finding a successor had already begun, although he has set no timetable.

Smith was hired at Kentucky to succeed Rick Pitino, who left the Wildcats to coach the Boston Celtics of the NBA.

``It’s business,″ Harrison said. ``To me, he’s the next thing to Pitino. I felt that when Pitino did leave, coach Smith would be offered the job.″

``We’ve kind of been expecting it,″ forward Jon Nordin said. ``It wasn’t a big shock. There’s no resentment on the team. We kind of knew coach Smith would be first in line. It’s a tough job to turn down.″

Dooley said he wants to bring the best available coach to Georgia, and although the main focus might be on an established, successful head coach, he will be considering Smith’s top assistant at Georgia, Ron Jirsa.

Dooley said Smith recommended Jirsa for the job when he and the coach talked on Saturday.

``Right now we would have a list of two or three top choices,″ Dooley said, declining to name them. ``We’ll have to see how that plays out.″

He said he had some other business to attend to, and didn’t think a decision would be reached in a matter of days.

`In my experience, there’s never a good time for a coaches change. On the other hand, we don’t have the pressure of recruiting. We will take our time. We will have a thorough search,″ he said.

Smith had a 45-19 record in two seasons at Georgia _ the first coach in school history to win more than 20 games in consecutive seasons. He took the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament both years, reaching the Sweet 16 his first year and posting a 24-9 mark last season when Georgia was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Tennessee-Chattanooga.

Neither Dooley, Harrison nor Nordin had any clue as to what Smith’s son, Bulldog point guard G.G. Smith, would do.

``I certainly hope that he will stay at Georgia and finish out his career both athletically and academically,″ Dooley said.

``I think he’s still deciding,″ said Nordin, Smith’s roommate. ``I think it will depend on who is named the head coach.″

``He’s under some pressure to make a decision,″ Bulldogs guard Ray Harrison said. ``I hope he stays. He’s a good player. The decision is on him.″

Among those considered possible candidates are Perry Clark of Tulane, Dave Odom of Wake Forest, Herb Sendek of North Carolina State, Mack McCarthy of Tennessee-Chattanooga and Kevin Stallings of Illinois State.

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