ATHENS – Vince Dooley hired Mark Richt all those years ago, and whether or not he agrees with Richt’s removal – he won’t go there – Dooley and Georgia’s current bosses agree on one thing.
They got the right replacement.
“I thought to myself that if I had been put in that same situation, what would I have done,” said Dooley, who was Georgia’s athletics director until 2005. “I really believe that’s who I would have gone after, that’s who I would have hired, is Kirby (Smart).”
Those aren’t just empty words, judging from the past: Dooley basically made the same hire in 2000: Richt, like Smart, was a coordinator for a national power but had never been a head coach.
“Mark, during the decade of the ‘90s, was an integral part of what was without a doubt the best program in the country, under Bobby Bowden at Florida State,” Dooley said. “And Kirby has been part of the best program of this decade, and an important part of it.”
The main difference is Smart’s connections to Georgia as a former player and assistant coach. But his paths never crossed much with Dooley.
Dooley only knew about Smart as a player, and knew about his father Sonny, the longtime high school coach. Dooley’s son Derek was on the same staff with Smart at LSU, leading Vince Dooley to keep up with his career.
But as far as in person, Dooley was more acquainted with Smart’s now-wife, Mary Beth, who was on the women’s basketball team.
“I still call her my favorite 3-point shooter,” Dooley said. “I loved watching her play.”
Since Smart’s hiring, the current Georgia coach and the winningest one in school history have only had one brief conversation – at the TaxSlayer Bowl. (Dooley referred to it as the Gator Bowl, which was the last game he coached in at Georgia.)
Dooley does think highly of a couple of Smart’s new assistants. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and offensive line coach Sam Pittman were at Tennessee under Derek Dooley.
“My son thought a lot of Pittman as well as Chaney,” Vince Dooley said. “These are guys that are out there and have been around for a long time.”
As for Richt, Dooley said that 15 years in this day and age is “a pretty long run” for this level. So what went wrong?
“Expectations and him becoming a victim of his own success,” Dooley said. “And the expectations being for three years running he was supposed to win the East, and as it turned out, Missouri somehow came out of the blue, then Missouri the next year defied the odds and somehow won it again, then Florida comes out of the blue this past year.
“And then the championship, and maybe some (Nick) Saban effect, who knows. People, maybe LSU is a little bit of a victim of that as well. Good programs with all the money in the world, and facilities, and yet this guy is winning championships, why can’t we? And of course tied in with that are the big salaries.”