ATHENS, Georgia -- When former Georgia athletics director Vince Dooley went searching for a new football coach in Dec. 2000, he eventually settled on Mark Richt, then Florida State's offensive coordinator, who had never been a head coach.
The decision worked out well for the Bulldogs. Richt coached at Georgia for 15 seasons, until he was relieved of his duties Sunday morning. He guided the Bulldogs to a record of 145-51 and two SEC championships, in 2002 and 2005.
It's believed Georgia might follow a similar path in hiring Richt's successor. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, a former Bulldogs defensive back, is the leading candidate for the job, several sources have told ESPN.com.
Smart, 39, has worked the past eight seasons at the Crimson Tide's defensive coordinator, helping them win three national championships since 2009. Smart, an All-SEC safety at Georgia from 1995-98, won the Broyles Award as the country's top assistant coach in 2009. His wife, the former Mary Beth Lycett, played basketball at Georgia and worked in the school's athletics department.
Smart, a native of Bainbridge, Georgia, isn't expected to talk to the Bulldogs until after the No. 2 Crimson Tide plays Florida in Saturday's SEC championship game in Atlanta. He is also a finalist for the opening at South Carolina, where the Gamecocks are trying to replace legendary coach Steve Spurrier, who resigned after six games this season.
Other candidates who might be considered for the Georgia job include Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen.
Dooley, who guided Georgia to its last national championship in 1980 and worked as the school's athletics director until 2004, said the Bulldogs would be gambling by hiring a candidate who hasn't been a head coach. But it might work out, like it did with Richt.
"You never know," Dooley said. "I didn't know for sure about Mark, because there was no record. I think based on him and what he was a part of, that it was a good percentage gamble. You just don't know. Even if you hire someone who has been successful, you don't know if they're going to continue to be successful. You don't know."
When Dooley was asked what kind of coach he'd go looking for, he said he'd try to find someone like the man the Bulldogs just fired.
"What would I be looking for?" Dooley said. "I think Mark Richt would be a good start."