ATHENS — One week ago in Arizona, as Alabama celebrated its national championship, one of the best players in Georgia football history spied the man now officially Georgia’s head coach.
The confetti was coming down, David Pollack recalled, when he found Kirby Smart somewhere on that jubilant field.
“OK, go do this for Georgia now,” Pollack said he told Smart.
Pollack, a three-time All-American Georgia defensive end and now an ESPN commentator, is happy that Smart is the coach at his alma mater. But he’s also content with how things turned out for Mark Richt, the man who coached Pollack for four years at Georgia.
“I think it worked out great for the school and for coach Richt, honestly. I think it’s the best thing that could’ve happened,” Pollack said on Monday. “How cool is it he gets back to go home now to Miami, where he played football, his alma mater, a whole new body of people that he gets to touch and show how great a person he is, and coach them. And I think he’ll have a chip on his shoulder too about being fired. I think he’ll have that competitiveness and toughness back, and making sure that he proves people wrong, which would be awesome to see.
“Then I think Georgia getting Kirby Smart – I think he’s got something to him. I think you’re going to see him recruit at an insanely high level, because he’s always done that. I think you’ll see a disciplined, tough group. He’s not gonna take a lot of nonsense.”
Perhaps because of his current job, Pollack looks at the Georgia coaching moves by seeing both sides. Richt won a lot of games and had many supporters. Pollack has always told anybody who would listen that Richt was more fiery and competitive behind the scenes than most knew.
But Pollack also understands why the administration would look at this season – beating just two teams with winning records, getting routed by Alabama and Florida – and make a change.
“In the key moments they haven’t made a lot of key plays, and in big games they’ve come up small a lot of times,” Pollack said. “I think that’s one of the things as a fan of the team – because I’m not a fan of any team except Georgia. I don’t have a team that I cheer for across football, the only one I want to win every week except Georgia. I think that’s one of the frustrating things, that in big games, big moments, not stepping up or not winning them or not making plays, or sometimes not even being competitive, which is even more frustrating.”
Smart and Pollack’s paths never crossed in Athens. By the time Pollack arrived at Georgia in 2001, Smart’s playing days were over, and when Smart returned as running backs coach in 2005, Pollack was a rookie in the NFL.
But they got to know each other in Pollack’s job as a commentator, with ESPN working so many Alabama games. They’ve talked a bit more since Smart got the Georgia job.
“Kirby was very patient with where he wanted to go, and it paid off for him,” Pollack said. “How many guys do you see jump at the first job that they get. Sometimes it’s successful and sometimes it’s not. He sat back, continued to collect championships with Saban, learned from the best coach in college football, one of the best coaches in the history of the game. And he got to spend nine years with that cat, learning and growing. So I can’t imagine that that time was wasted. I imagine that he kept learning and seeing how the master did it. Now I think he’s even more equipped to go, not just to any job, but to go home, where he grew up, to where he played, where when you were at an age where you were probably the most impressed the most. So I think it’s pretty dad-gum cool.”
Smart said something during his introductory press conference that stood out to Pollack. When asked whether he would be hands-on with the defense, Smart answered: “I’m gonna be hands-on with the whole program.”
“I loved hearing that,” Pollack said. “You should have your hand on the pulse of your whole team, know what’s going on, the ins and outs. So I’m really excited about Kirby and his tenure and what’s going to happen.”