Twenty years before Kirby Smart was named the UGA coach, Jim Donnan patrolled the Bulldogs’ sidelines, even coaching Smart during his playing career (1995-98) at UGA.
With Smart set to embark on his first season between the hedges, Donnan provided some advice to his former player on how to use his time and avoid an error he made during his inaugural season in 1996.
“The one thing that I told him was that the biggest mistake that I made my first year was that I spent way too much time with the alumni clubs speaking and trying to promote the program rather than being with the players,” Donnan told Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee. “I felt like I spent enough time with the players, but still, looking at the relationships the first year compared to the second year was night and day.”
In the current coaching world, the argument can be made that coaches have never had more responsibilities than they do today. Whether it be media obligations, recruiting, or the new boon of satellite camps, it has become a 24-7, 365-day job. Alumni and booster events add to the slate, and coaches still have to actually coach the team, too.
“We didn’t even have that (satellite camp) problem,” Donnan told Bleacher Report. “There has to be a give and take there. Your players have to come first before you do all of that. There’s a heck of a lot of promotion that has to go on because everybody wants to meet the coach. (Smart) has done a really good job of that.”
Smart has attended his fair share of alumni events, but he has not gone to every one that was on the schedule of former UGA coach Mark Richt. That has given Smart more time to work with players as he attempts to implement a culture change.
“I think I went to 57 of them my first year—either civic clubs or booster clubs or all of that,” Donnan told Bleacher Report. “You cut that in half or a fourth, and you can spend that much more time with your players. That’s the real key. Not only the players, but the families. I think it’s great that he invited some players’ families over to a couple of the scrimmages this year early because you have to get to know them, too.”
It seems Smart has heeded the advice of his former coach, but Bulldogs fans will hope that Smart can exceed the success of Donnan during his tenure in Athens.