Kirby Smart zigged when the football world thought he would zag.
Georgia’s fifth-year head coach added instant energy to the sideline and daily practices with the addition of former Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran on Monday.
Nick Saban didn’t want to promote the 40-year-old Cochran or give him a chance to advance in his career, so Smart capitalized on the opportunity and landed him as a special teams coordinator.
Smart has had more than a month to observe and evaluate a new offensive staff. Most notably, the addition of former NFL offensive coordinator Todd Monken and assistant head coach and offensive line coach Matt Luke.
If the offensive meeting room needed another mind, or more help in the position groups, Smart would have added it.
But Smart clearly feels that’s not the case. So now special teams gets a coach of its very own, and Cochran gets a chance to prove himself as an on-field assistant.
Cochran will no doubt confer and share ideas with Georgia strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair.
But more than anything, Cochran brings a presence.
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) February 24, 2020
Here are three things of note about Smart’s hire of Cochran:
The special teams coordinator touches every position group on the team.
Smart, having worked with Cochran for nine years at Alabama, understands the ripple effect his new hire will have on the team.
“Scott’s passion and energy is contagious,” Smart said in a UGA release issued on Monday. “Special Teams Coordinator is a great fit, as he’ll be working with all position groups. His knowledge and experience elevate our entire program.”
Georgia has won 36 games over the past three seasons. There’s not much room for elevation left, but Smart might have found it.
Georgia’s special teams weren’t special last season.
The return game didn’t produce any memorable moments. The coverage teams were more adequate than imposing.
As much as Smart talked about winning special teams, and setting a tone, it didn’t happen.
Georgia ranked 93rd in kick return average last season (19.14) and 82nd in punt return defense (8.83 per return).
And this is with Smart putting starting personnel on the units — inexcusable.
Punter Jake Camarda showed improvement, but that was offset by Rodrigo Blankenship’s costly missed field goals in losses to South Carolina and LSU.
Smart has a sense of urgency like few other coaches. The moment Cochran arrives, there will be an impact on the football team.
Smart brings energy and emotion to each practice, each day, according to players. But there’s only one of him.
Cochran’s ability to motivate and work with young people has been one of the pillars to the great success Alabama coach Nick Saban has enjoyed. All great coaches have a strong support staff, and Georgia’s just got better.
The perception of the hire is also important, as it lifts Georgia and damages the Tide all in one swoop. Smart is surely aware of that consequence, too.