Kirby Smart’s fingerprints all over changes at Georgia

Georgia coach Kirby Smart oversees the Bulldogs' first spring practice at the Club Sports Complex near campus. (Brant Sanderlin /

ATHENS — There was a new buzz around recruiting. (When did the head football coach get a helicopter?)

There are new names and unfamiliar job descriptions on the ever-morphing football support staff. (What’s a Football Graphic Design Coordinator? Does he/she work with the four quality control coordinators? And how do they coordinate with the Player Relations Coordinator, who’s not to be confused with the Director of Football Operations, who’s not to be confused with the Director of Player Development, who’s not to be confused with the Director of Player Programs, none of whom are the actual coaches. Notable: Georgia also has a Director of On-Campus Recruiting. I assume the position has a different job description than at Louisville.)

There were 40-some media members who rode a shuttle bus for 13 minutes to Georgia’s interim practice fields Tuesday, then were asked to stand in an area from where we could see pretty much nothing. (So bad news, Bulldog fans: I could not confirm offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is gone.)

At the center of it all this Tuesday was Kirby Smart. On the first day of spring practice, Smart fielded a number of questions about his quarterbacks, his offensive line, his running backs, his defense, his punters. But this day and every day that follows in Athens won’t be about any player or position battle as much as it will be about Smart.

He never has been a head coach before. He never has been in charge of setting the tone or direction. Smart is now the big-picture guy, covering all aspects of a football program, from quarterback to strength coach to Football Graphic Design Coordinator.

“I have a plan to be involved with the offense certain periods (of practice),” Smart said. “I’ve scripted myself to be there.”

It would be bad precedent for the coach to go against the script on Day 1.

Smart has his way of doing things, and it’s far closer to Nick Saban’s way of doing things than Mark Richt’s. That’s only natural, given most of his training came under Saban with three different teams.

So in true Saban style, the volume was turned up in recruiting and the support staff grew to record proportions. The media’s access to players, particularly a freshman quarterback, is almost certain to be reduced. Even more certain: access to assistant coaches will be non-existent.

Smart’s program. Smart’s beliefs. Smart’s voice.

“You can tell he’s a dominant person by the way he speaks and his actions,” running back Sony Michel said. “He tells you what he wants. There’s nothing sugar-coated about it. He tells you exactly how he wants something done.”

More Michel: “He’s going to push us to the limit. He’s going to push us harder than we’ve ever been pushed. He’s going to see us strain. He’s going to see us go until we just can’t go any more.”

Some players are walking on eggshells.

Some fans will smile at this.

Smart isn’t merely bringing in new schemes, coaches and players. A new college coach often walks onto a campus and desires to change everything, particularly when he comes from a program (Alabama) that wins national championships and goes to a program (Georgia) that has been known for losing too many big games and falling short of expectations.

It will be “a challenge,” Smart said, to balance his message with expectations.

“I told them, ‘Don’t come out here thinking it’s your time to win the SEC East or the SEC tomorrow,'” he said. “The goal is to get better each day.”

Smart wants players to “treat each day as if it has a history and a life of its own. Meaning whatever happened yesterday, whether we won or lost, so what? Now what?”

When somebody hasn’t coached a game yet, every soundbite sounds perfect, every decision seems right. Smart has everybody’s attention, particularly his players.

“Some players are nervous,” center Brandon Kublanow said.

“We know there’s no depth chart,” safety Quincy Mauger said.

“Nobody can say a job is theirs,” Michel said.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable, Smart  is telling his players.

Enjoy this honeymoon for as long as it lasts, everybody else will tell Smart. Because he knows the real grading starts in September.

“We’re not at or near the top yet,” he said. “But even when you’re climbing something, every step is just as important as those last two or three. Today is just the beginning of one of those steps.”

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