There were hugs and there were kisses, but last Valentine's Day at the home of Gary and Jeanne Gibbs there wasn't a lot of romance in the air. That morning Gary Gibbs waved goodbye, not only to Jeanne and the couple's two kids, but also to Norman, Okla., his hometown for 29 years. Hours later he was met at the Atlanta airport by his old friend Georgia coach Jim Donnan, who had coached with Gibbs at Oklahoma in the 1980s. Donnan drove his new defensive coordinator to his new home at the Holiday Inn Express in Athens—where Gibbs still resides—and the latest savior of Georgia football was ready to begin his work.
"Gary has a strong record," says Donnan, noting that Oklahoma led the nation in total defense in '85, '86 and '87, when Gibbs was the Sooners' defensive coordinator. "He'll turn our defense around."
Last year the Bulldogs gave up more total yards (382.6) per game than any other SEC team. That kind of statistic doesn't endear head coaches to alumni. Neither does the fact that under Donnan the Bulldogs are 1-7 against Florida and Tennessee.
All of which makes this a very important season for Donnan, because if ever Georgia is going to win an SEC tide, this is the year. The Bulldogs have experience (19 starters return), a gifted quarterback ( Quincy Carter) and a friendly schedule. "We can be great," says senior Richard Seymour, an All-SEC defensive tackle. "We can play for a national title."
Ten starters are back on defense, but newcomer Gibbs, Georgia's third defensive coordinator in three years, will have the greatest impact on the unit. Since resigning under pressure from Oklahoma in November 1994, Gibbs has lived a quiet life on the plains. When Donnan called in January and asked Gibbs how to improve his defense, Gibbs had a two-word answer: Hire me. "I was ready," says Gibbs, whose family stayed in Norman. "Now the key is to identify who my playmakers are and put them in positions to make plays."
"This fall," says Seymour, "we plan on surprising quite a few people." If that happens, Gibbs's neighbors in Norman shouldn't expect him home anytime soon.