ATHENS — When Georgia clinched the SEC East title Saturday night, Kirby Smart became a little richer. And the way this season is going, he will have the ability to earn even more.
But the suspicion here is Smart would prefer his program be rewarded in other ways.
First, a quick review of how Smart’s bank account is growing: The contract Smart agreed to upon being hired includes a bonus clause of $150,000 for winning the SEC East. Besides the undying gratitude of Georgia fans, Smart also can earn another $250,000 for winning the SEC Championship Game, $500,000 for making the College Football Playoff and another $500,000 for winning the national championship.
So it’s an even $1 million bonus for winning it all, in addition to $400,000 for winning the SEC. Even if Georgia misses out on the playoffs, a bid to a CFP-affiliated bowl game would net $200,000. And a top-5 finish in the AP or coaches poll also will bring him $200,000.
And then there’s Smart’s own salary.
As of last month, Smart ranked ninth among SEC coaches and 23rd nationally in total pay, at $3.75 million. Seven other SEC coaches are earning north of $4 million this season.
Jimmy Sexton, Smart’s well-connected agent, is probably already getting ready for offseason renegotiations.
But both Smart and his agent know that a contract and bonuses are just short-term gains. The success of this year means leverage, and it might best be used to strengthen Georgia’s program in the long term.
Facilities arms race
The indoor facility is here, and the 2017 Georgia team is the first to benefit from it. The Sanford Stadium west end-zone project, which was getting a private nudge from Mark Richt before he was let go, was green-lighted earlier this year and should be complete next year. That will give Georgia a recruiting area, and at long last, new game-day locker rooms.
But more needs to be done, and Smart knows that, although he’s not going to publicly lobby. (Asked this summer about what other facilities are needed, Smart smiled and said the focus was on fundraising for the $63 million west end-zone project, and left it at that.)
A bigger weight room could be at the top of a facilities wish list. A few more amenities for players at the football facility would be nice. And in general, there’s no sense the facilities arms race is abating.
Georgia has lapped the field in the SEC East this year, on the field at least, but the competition is still the entire SEC, and several programs in the conference’s West division are still ahead of Georgia in facilities. Some things may be about to change in the East, too: Florida lagged behind in facilities for years, a frustration of its last couple of coaches. But new athletic director Scott Stricklin has put in motion some additions. South Carolina is pumping money into its facilities.
But it’s about more than just facilities.
When teams win, other teams will try to raid their staff. If assistant coaches can improve their careers, schools thank them for their service and wish them the best. But Georgia will want to stay competitive in salaries so that nobody leaves because of money.
Mel Tucker could leave to become a head coach at a good program. But UGA could try to keep its respected defensive coordinator if it’s not an easy call to leave.
Dell McGee, the running backs coach, has been recruiting his derriere off and would seem due a salary raise from his current $350,000, especially if another school comes calling.
Inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann earns $250,000. We should all be so poor, but surely other programs have noticed the production of Georgia’s inside linebackers and Schumann’s recruiting prowess. Somebody will come after Schumann.
Scott Sinclair and the strength and conditioning staff have been lauded for their role in helping this team be physical and avoid long-term injuries. Sinclair earns $300,000, which is good, but just wait until another school comes calling. Because one will.
The list goes on. When UGA is as dominant as it has been this year, every assistant coach has done a good job. And every assistant could be due a raise.
There’s also the support staff factor. It has increased under Smart but has room to grow, and it may benefit the team to keep people currently on staff. Scott Fountain and Jay Johnson have been a huge help and could parlay this year into full-time coaching offers elsewhere. But again, if it’s not an obvious career-improving jump, maybe UGA makes it worth their while to stay.
Oh, and don’t forget what happens on Jan. 8, 2018: Teams can hire a 10th on-field assistant coach. It’s a safe assumption that marketplace will get competitive.
The SEC has basically been Alabama and Georgia this year, with Auburn still trying to stay in the conversation. It has been a down year for the rest of the SEC, and the rest of the conference leaders are not going to react by just throwing up their arms and saying, “Oh well.”
Georgia can’t think it has arrived just because of this one year. Alabama didn’t react to Nick Saban’s first championship by resting on its financial laurels. It kept building and spending.
Georgia will need to do the same.