Originally created 11/13/97

Replacements face similar challenges



There won't be any stomping this winter at Stegeman Coliseum. Ron Jirsa isn't the stomping sort.

"I'd get foot injuries if I did that," Georgia's new basketball coach says.

Nor will there be much midnight oil burned at the Smith Center this season. Bill Guthridge is a morning person, unlike his predecessor.

"Our staff meetings start at 8:30 each morning," says the new North Carolina basketball coach. "That's probably the biggest difference between Dean and me."

Their teams meet Dec. 27 in Athens, Ga., and at first glance that would appear to be all they share, these new head coaches at Georgia and North Carolina.

Jirsa is 37, a bachelor, dashing, soft-spoken, barely known in coaching circles.

Guthridge is 61, a father of three, bookish, widely revered in the coaching fraternity.

Look closer, though, and you'll see the many parallels.

Both men served long apprenticeships before receiving this chance. Jirsa spent 16 years as an assistant, logging time at seven different colleges. The last six years he served under Tubby Smith, first at Tulsa and later with the Bulldogs.

Guthridge spent the last 30 years on the bench beside another man named Smith. He could have jumped ship for more money and more fame but hadn't seriously considered an offer in almost two decades.

Both men report to work daily at a building that bears the mark of the man they replaced. Stegeman came to be known as The Tub during Smith's brief but memorable reign. The Smith Center is named formally for the game's all-time winningest coach and informally known as the Dean Dome.

Both men must replace charismatic, popular leaders. Jirsa was the surprise choice when Tubby Smith heeded the call from the Kentucky bluegrass last spring. Guthridge was an emergency replacement when Dean Smith reached mid-October without his usual hunger and opted to retire.

Oh, yes, and both men face widespread doubts about their ability to keep the machine humming. Both men must deal with the whispers.

This is the first head coaching job of Jirsa's life. He may know Tubby Ball cold and have the ability to recruit, but can he handle Southeastern Conference pressure? Perhaps he should have run his own program at a lower level first.

Guthridge hasn't been a head coach since the mid-'60s, and that was at Scott City High School in his native Kansas. There's a big difference between charting minutes for El Deano and having final say -- and ultimate responsibility -- for a perennial title contender.

They're already taking bets on Franklin Street on the Tar Heels' next coach. Roy Williams is the odds-on favorite, with Eddie Fogler a solid second choice.

The whispers come as no surprise. Isn't it this way for everyone unfortunate enough to follow a legend? How can anyone in that situation possibly win?

Phil Bengston couldn't do it in Green Bay. Nor could Ray Perkins in Tuscaloosa, Hank Raymonds at Marquette, Joey Meyer at De Paul or Gary Cunningham in Westwood.

Then again, Joe B. Hall won a national title in relief of Adolph Rupp. Jimmy Johnson did fairly well in Dallas upon following Tom Landry. George Seifert handled the Bill Walsh Mystique with aplomb.

It probably depends on the individual. He must be strong, confident, organized, impervious.

"I really feel like my ego is in the right place," Jirsa says. "I've worked for nothing. I've come up though the ranks. I've done all the things I needed to do to survive to get to this point."

Says Guthridge: "I'm the head coach, but no one can replace Dean Smith. But I still think I'll be a good coach. I wouldn't have taken the job if I didn't think I could do this."

Only winning -- early and often -- will stop the whispers.