Georgia coach Mark Richt was on the hot seat after starting 0-2, but UGA won 10 games in a row before losing its final two.
ATHENS — Mark Richt found himself talking Monday about the latest Georgia player to be arrested instead of the Bulldogs’ optimism about next season and his new five-year contract.
During a news conference to preview spring practice, the first question was about the latest of three 2011 Georgia starters who have been arrested — cornerback Branden Smith on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge in Abbeville, Ala.
Richt said he is “very frustrated” about Smith’s arrest.
“The timing isn’t very good, either,” Richt said.
Georgia has 15 starters, including quarterback Aaron Murray and two first-team All-America picks on defense — linebacker Jarvis Jones and safety Bacarri Rambo — returning from a team that played in the SEC championship game.
The Bulldogs finished with 10 wins and ranked 19th. They could sit much higher in the 2012 preseason Top 25.
For now, the arrests have overshadowed the outlook for Georgia’s spring practice and Richt’s new deal.
The coach has agreed to a new five-year contract that will carry through the 2016 season.
“We’ve agreed to all the big stuff and there are still some things that have got to be ironed out,” Richt said.
Athletic director Greg McGarity says details are being finalized by attorneys.
Richt, who just completed his 11th season, is making $2.81 million annually in his current deal. McGarity said his compensation, as well as his buyout clause and other deals, will be “tweaked” in the new contract. McGarity said he won’t provide details until the document is ready.
Georgia also announced a new three-year contract for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. As with Richt’s deal, financial terms are being finalized.
But the news off the field has created an unwanted buzz.
Another starting cornerback, Sanders Commings, was arrested on a domestic violence charge in Athens on Jan. 21. Richt suspended Commings for the first two games of the 2012 season.
On Friday, former Georgia tight end Orson Charles was arrested in Athens on a drunken driving charge. Charles, who was a junior on the 2011 team, left school early to enter the NFL draft.
Richt said he is still gathering facts on Smith’s arrest. He said he had a brief telephone conversation with Smith.
“First of all, I don’t know all the details yet so I don’t want to throw anybody completely under the bus yet,” said Richt, who added “I’m not thrilled I’m having to deal with it.”
Smith was pulled over for having no tag light and following another vehicle too closely, and the arresting officer smelled marijuana in the car, Henry County Sherriff William Maddox said. Maddox said less than an ounce of marijuana was found under the back seat.
Smith could be suspended for at least one game, Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said.
A passenger in the car, Dazme Rayshaun Woods of Atlanta, also faces misdemeanor charges.
Smith was released on $2,000 bond Monday. Woods was released on $3,000 bond. Woods’ bond was higher because he was arrested last week in Abbeville for felony marijuana possession.
Asked by The Associated Press if the marijuana found in his car belonged to him, Smith said “I’m not talking about that.”
With Commings already out for two games, including Georgia’s SEC opener at Missouri on Sept. 8, the Bulldogs’ secondary would be severely stretched if Smith also is suspended.
The versatile Smith, a senior, has four career interceptions including two in 2011, when he started seven games. He had three catches for 39 yards and 13 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown as a spot player on offense. He also had a combined 16 kickoff and punt returns.
Richt said Malcolm Mitchell, who had 45 catches as a freshman last season, will be a full-time cornerback in spring practice and could play on offense and defense in 2012. Junior Blake Sailors also will have an opportunity to earn more time at cornerback.
Tailback Keith Marshall is one of three 2012 signees who enrolled early and will participate in spring drills. Marshall could push Isaiah Crowell, last year’s SEC Freshman of the Year. Crowell had 850 yards rushing even though he missed two games. A failed drug test resulted in a one-game suspension.
Richt said Crowell is having a good offseason.
“I think that Isaiah is definitely growing up,” Richt said. “He’s getting there.
“I see a lot of improvement in Isaiah, there’s no doubt. To say he’s there and he’s reached it and he understands completely all the work ethic and everything it takes to be great, you know, I’d say he’s in the process of getting there, like a lot of guys who are freshmen.”
The G-Day spring game is scheduled for April 14.