MOBILE, Ala. —Success hasn’t changed Kirby Smart, and it sure hasn’t made his approach to Georgia football any different.
But as direct and determined as Smart continues to be, with all his intents to maintain and reload a championship-level program, he’s dealing with moving targets.
The one-time transfer and NIL rulings arrived last year with the proper intentions and spirit but have brought roster management challenges and financial complications.
Smart shared that winning the national championship doesn’t carry the same momentum on the recruiting trail as it once did.
“Ten years ago it was probably a bigger deal than it was today,” Smart said. “They put their weight in other categories.”
The recruiting model has not only changed, Smart indicated, but it exists in an evolutionary state.
1. The Sell
“What I’m finding in recruiting, is it used to be you sold championships, you sold facilities, maybe development, it was a primary sell,” Smart said on his signing day Zoom press conference on Wednesday.
“Now, development has taken a step back, which it shouldn’t, and facilities, academics, what we can do for you in terms of life after football - those things have taken a back burner to NIL for a lot of people.
“The sell, when you’re selling the development of a young man from Jordan Davis, and you’re selling the “look at what he became,” that’s much more enjoyable to sell than to sell what he made in NIL.”
2. The propaganda
NIL wasn’t intended to be used as a recruiting tool, but of course, it is, and some of those complaining loudest were once guilty themselves of flaunting it.
Remember when Alabama coach Nick Saban just happened to mention on the radio the morning of his SEC Media Days appearance that quarterback Bryce Young had NIL deals approaching $1 million?
“Our QB has already approached ungodly numbers, and he hasn’t even played yet,” Saban said. “If I told you what it is … it’s almost 7-figures.”
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Saban didn’t break any rules, but it fed into a perception — propaganda.
Stanford coach Davis Shaw called Saban out for it at the time.
“Nick mentioning that at the Media Day is a great way to kick-start your recruiting, especially if you’re recruiting another high-caliber quarterback, as we all know they are,” Shaw said at Pac-12 Media Day.
“It wasn’t accidental. Many of us around college football kind of shrugged our shoulders and said, ‘Is this really what we want to be doing?’ "
Smart clearly doesn’t approve, either.
“Once you explain to a kid that we can’t set that up, we can’t promise that …. " Smart said. (But) what people are doing, is they’re validating their NIL by showing what their current roster makes and by showing what current players are able to do.
“The more marketable their players, the dollar signs fall in these young kids’ and parents’ minds. I think sometimes they’re getting misled into the numbers that are already out there which becomes propaganda.”
“Recruiting is always propaganda. It’s how you use it.”
3. No guarantees
Smart stressed that one size does not fit all with NIL, by the very nature of football.
“Number one, you can’t guarantee that (NIL earnings number,” Smart said. “Number two, to each kid it may apply differently.
“Some guys are at developmental positions, and they are going to have to work very hard.”
It would be much easier for an incoming skill position player who could find his way to the field immediately to land a NIL deal, than most offensive or defensive linemen who need time to develop physically.
4. NIL priority
Smart understands the wants, and in some cases, needs, for players to make NIL money.
Nothing is guaranteed, from the standpoint that an injury can happen at any time, cutting short a player’s opportunity to make it to the NFL draft.
Still, Smart suggests big-picture thinking should prevail when it comes to how prospects approach the importance of NIL deals.
“It is easy to sit here and say, ' What can I make NIL? How can you help me?’ " Smart said. “Well, I can help you a whole lot more if you come out of college with a degree and come out of college and get drafted.
“There are a lot more commas on those salaries than there are on NIL deals.”
Smart said having players who are bought into the program and long-term success bring more value to the program.
“You have to be able to explain that to kids and they have to understand and buy into it,” Smart said. “A lot of kids come from a society of, ‘Now, now now. Me, me, me. Self-gratification,’ and we really need, ‘Team, team, team,’ long-term buy-in, develop and be the best player when you leave.”
5. Recruiting pool
Smart said Georgia will have to take a hard look at the types of players it’s recruiting, where NIL is concerned.
“You have to be selective of going really far away from home, or how big of a portal risk is this kid, is NIL so important to him that he is not going to be as effective as a player?” Smart said.
“That is where there are tough decisions made as a head coach and a position coach of which guys you take because you don’t really know until they get here sometimes.”