Georgia coach needs to live up to his name
HOOVER, Ala. — Kirby Smart’s name fits.
The Georgia head football coach got his degree in finance and his master’s at Florida State University.
He resisted jumping from being an assistant to just any head coaching job. His name came up with almost every head coach opening since winning the 2009 Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant football coach.
Smart waited until the right job in the right division opened and he rushed into Georgia, his alma mater, with everything but a band and a parade.
He grew up in Georgia, played defensive back for the Bulldogs, earned All-SEC status his senior year and was on the SEC All-Academic team four years.
He was a rock star hired to play a local gig in his adopted hometown.
Yet, he was hired to fill big shoes after Mark Richt went 145-51 overall and 83-37 in SEC play over a 15-year run. Richt was fired after a 9-3 2015 season, and the movers and shakers at Georgia went for Smart like President Trump has the world of Twitter.
Richt landed in Miami and went 9-3 his first season and the Hurricane Nation loves the a guy who knew the importance of relationships, even with the media. He even encourages his players to be interviewed.
That was the first big difference.
Smart has been Sabanized after spending 10 seasons working for Alabama’s Nick Saban.
A year ago, during his first SEC football media days, Smart was as nervous as a long-tailed cat at a rocking chair convention.
He read from a prepared statement before opening the floor to questions from the 250 reporters on hand, and he looked like he’d rather be putting on a blindfold in front of a firing squad.
Apparently he carried that attitude over to the regular season, keeping the media at arm’s length even though the season went nothing like was anticipated.
The Bulldogs went 8-5. Richt averaged winning 9.6 games per year at Georgia. He was 10-5 in bowl games.
Georgia football has almost always been good and much is always expected.
The state produces 40 to 50 FBS players every year. It is a state that gets visited regularly by Saban and all the other coaches who recruit the best players in the country.
When the Bulldogs ended up in the Liberty Bowl last season, the fans stayed away in droves.
On Monday night, at an SEC reception, it was suggested to a reporter who covers Georgia that someone needed to whisper in Smart’s ear to lighten up a little.
“Good luck with that,” the reporter said.
This year at SEC media days, Smart once again had his notes organized and he covered them quickly and efficiently. And when he threw the session open for questions, he was more relaxed, more confident and a little more seasoned.
He wasn’t totally a copy of Saban, who makes reporters feel like idiots if they ask a question that has an error in it. Understand, that for some reason, some media members here always state some sort of fact before asking a question.
Like one reporter who asked Smart about expectations with 21 starters back.
After a slight pause, Smart said that math didn’t add up — Georgia has three starters in the offensive line back — but he never said how many starters he does have back.
It is 18, still a huge number, especially when it includes Nick Chubb, a great running back who opted to play his senior season. But as Les Miles found out at LSU last season when he had 17 starters back, it is what you do with the talent.
Smart said Georgia football is about winning championships, and to do that you have to get to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game and find a way to beat Saban, his mentor.
He’s smart enough to know neither is easy.