Mark Richt is a good man. He is also a good football coach. But that is all he is: good. He was never going to reach greatness at Georgia and probably won't at Miami or wherever he lands in five or six years after he is canned in south Florida. It was time for UGA to make a change.
Kirby Smart was that change. He has breathed new life into the program at a time when it needed it the most. He should win a lot of games in Athens but how dangerous is Kirby Smart as the new head coach for the Georgia Bulldogs?
If serving under a head coach is like going to college, then Kirby Smart graduated from Harvard with honors. He got his first major assistant job under Nick Saban at LSU as secondary coach in 2004. After a year coaching running backs (?) at Georgia, he rejoined Saban with the Miami Dolphins, and followed him to Alabama. There he served as secondary coach for a year before being promoted to defensive coordinator, a title he carried for eight seasons and four National Championships. If there is anyone who has learned more about The Process® than Nick Saban himself, it is Kirby Smart.
It is hard to say how important it was to hire a former UGA player, but Smart fills that bill. Not only did he play for the Dawgs. He was a pretty darn good player. As a defensive back, he was a first-team All-SEC selection as a senior and finished his career with 13 interceptions.
One of the most important things a leader can do is surround himself with good people. Hiring Mel Tucker as his Defensive Coordinator was a slam dunk choice. He has a long resume which includes stints as an NFL DC as well as Interim Head Coach. Smart and Tucker served together on Saban's staff this past championship season.
Jim Chaney as Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach is not such a clear choice. The 54-year old spent much of his coaching career specializing in offensive linemen until Derek Dooley brought him in as OC/QB coach in the failed experiment at Tennessee. He followed that up with two seasons in Arkansas and last year at Pitt.
The rest of the staff:
- Sam Pittman, Offensive Line - Chaney disciple.
- James Coley, Wide Receivers - former offensive coordinator at Miami (Al Golden) and Florida State (Jimbo Fisher). Grad Assistant under Saban at LSU during 2003 national champion season.
- Dell McGee, Running Backs - former Auburn defensive back.
- Shane Beamer, Tight Ends/Special Teams Coordinator - son of long-time Va Tech head coach Frank Beamer.
- Glenn Schumann, Inside Linebackers - former Grad Assistant and Director of Player Development/Associate Director of Personnel at Alabama.
- Kevin Sherrer, Outside Linebackers - former South Alabama assistant. Tight end for the Crimson Tide from 1993-95.
- Tracy Rocker, Associate Head Coach/Defensive Line - former Auburn All-American.
- 35 member Support Staff.
A big knock on Richt was that he was able to assemble a stacked roster but couldn't quite put it all together. For his housewarming party, Smart has been showered with a pretty good set of football players.
OFFENSE: If healthy, running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are one of the top one-two punches in the nation. Terry Godwin is a star in the making at wide receiver. The offensive line is solid anchored by Greg Pyke and Brandon Kublanow. The biggest toy in this chest is incoming true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason.
DEFENSE: The Bulldogs are working to rebuild the front seven but there is some young talent and decent depth. All-SEC safety Dominick Sanders anchors a talented secondary group. Linebacker is a big question mark.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kick returner Isaiah McKenzie has potential to be a game-changer. The Dawgs are trying to find a new kicker and punter.
Any true Bama fan knows that Smart can recruit with the best of them. Scout.com named him their SEC Recruiter of the Year in 2013. 247Sports had him as one of their top five recruiters for 2014 class.
While the public is familiar with his prowess recruiting as an assistant, the real test is how he does as a head coach. It is well-known that Saban is one of the best at the in-home visit. That is a talent that is hard to teach.
Smart performed his first miracle at Georgia when he convinced 5-star quarterback Jacob Eason, who resides in furthest reach of the Continental United States, to stand by his commitment to attend UGA after Richt was let go.
Three players from the Peach State, who were previously committed to Alabama, have since rescinded their pledges to Alabama and flipped to commit to Georgia since Smart took over in Athens. Wide receiver Tyler Simmons (2016) and a pair of 2017 players in quarterback Jake Fromm and offensive guard Netori Johnson are now Bulldog commitments. All are Georgia natives.
Georgia is fertile ground for college football prospects. For other schools, recruiting the Peach state just got a lot tougher.
The Bulldogs fan base is a funny one. They are super loyal but almost to a fault. They fill out Sanford Stadium every Saturday of the season, feeling like "this is the year". They buy the merchandise, hope for championships, but by the time winter rolls in, they are left playing a second-tier bowl game in north Florida against a Big Ten also-ran. Georgia has not won a National Championship since 1980, yet you get a feel that they don't think it was that long ago.
It has been amazing to hear UGA fans blame the team's misfortunes in recent seasons on the coordinators while Richt continued to get a pass. Will Smart get that same treatment? Most Georgia fans will likely admit a begrudging respect for Alabama. They want to emulate what the Crimson Tide has done over the last nine years. They will probably give their new head coach a pass for awhile.
Unfortunately for Smart, he arrives at a time when the SEC East is on an uptick. Mark Richt squandered away many seasons when Tennessee and Florida were in the doldrums of five or six win campaigns. Now he will be facing much-improved squads from both of those schools. On the other hand, his teams should have no problems in their annual games with Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, and Georgia Tech for the next few years. That lineup plus two cupcakes should guarantee at least seven wins per season. Then there is the toss up with Auburn and their fourth non-conference games (UNC this year, Notre Dame in 2017 and 2019). The big question is whether the Vols and Gators have passed them by for the unforeseeable future.
If the Bulldogs can manage to win the SEC East, then there is the matter of beating their counterpart to the West. The East has not won the SEC Championship Game since Tim Tebow was at Florida in 2008. The West won the next nine games by an average of 22 points.
THE PROCESS® 2.0
Experiencing The Process® is one thing. Imitating it is another. Jimbo Fisher took Florida State to the top of the mountain with his version. Jim McElwain has shown great promise in his short career as a head coach. But heed the warnings that are Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley.
Implementing The Process® is a delicate process. The first step is having that presence of a totalitarian leader. Saban is not a big man but he can bring a grown man to tears. He takes control of every aspect of his program. He is a calculated man and everything he does and everything he says, has a purpose towards helping his team succeed. Can Smart inspire his team to play an FCS cupcake the way Saban does? Can he get his team to buy in every day, every rep, every study hall, every second of every day for the span of each player's college career at Georgia?
The first clues will emerge on September 3rd in the Georgia Dome against North Carolina.