Knowing what to ask for — and winning — help Kirby Smart get what he wants
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Since he was hired, Kirby Smart has added significant support staff in recruiting, analytics, etc. He has also convinced the administration to spend over $50 million in the stadium to improve the team and recruiting facilities. The payoff is to be competitive with the best – Alabama. The IPF was begun under Coach Richt but it’s my understanding Jeremy Pruitt was the one who really pushed the idea (again an Alabama guy). Since money was never really the issue, is Smart just a better salesman or was Richt just not assertive enough to ask for these things?
That’s a very good question, Mr. Ramsey. There’s a couple of different ways it can be answered.
First of all, both the indoor practice facility and the new locker room and recruiting lounge were sought after by and discussed with Richt long before they became a reality under Smart’s watch. There were a couple of things at work slowing down their progress. To start with, Richt didn’t prioritize them quite as much. The idea of the indoor came up a couple of times in his tenure and actually was on the drawing board early on, around the time he won his second SEC championship. But that was before everybody in the SEC had an indoor facility. Richt downplayed its need in favor of new coaches’ offices, locker rooms and weight and training rooms. That’s what he ultimately got with the Butts-Mehre expansion that was completed in 2010.
Richt also complained of the Bulldogs’ locker room situation at Sanford Stadium being less than desirable. Georgia has had pretty much the same cinderblock dressing room under the East Stands since the early 1980s. He discussed either renovating or rebuilding what they had on that end or possibly moving to the other end of the stadium, where the West End project is ongoing now. But Richt did this quietly and behind the scenes and generally reasoned that his teams were making due just fine with what they had.
Secondly, when Greg McGarity came on board as athletic director in 2010, one of his first duties was to preside over the dedication of the Butts-Mehre expansion and the McNalley “multipurpose facility” that came with it. So he was reticent to do something else to the football complex. But, he also maintained that perks such as facility improvements and staff payroll increases should be attached to success on the playing field, whether it be in football or other sports. While Richt had enjoyed much success with the Bulldogs, McGarity placed the bar for success at winning championships, and the Georgia hadn’t done that since 2005.
As for the Pruitt factor, there’s no question he was much more outspoken than Richt and added a whole different element to his staff. But the fact is, when he came out with his bold statement in the late fall of 2014, Georgia already had the plans to build its indoor facility. However, UGA’s administration was moving slow and methodically on it and making sure all the resident approvals went through the proper channels before announcing. Pruitt, having gotten wind of this and frustrated after having to scratch a practice due to weather, just decided “to heck with protocol” and put it out in public conscious so he could use it in recruiting. He was misleading, however, saying it’d be ready for the 2015 season. In fact, it was not ready until the 2017 season. But as UGA had stated, it’s indeed the nicest in the SEC.
As for Smart, obviously he and Richt have different demeanors and management styles. That said, Smart chiefly has benefited from simply being the new guy. Any time there is a regime change in a major revenue sport, there is going to be an infusion of support for the new guy. To Smart’s credit, he had followed Georgia closely and recruited against it regularly while at Alabama, and arrived in Athens with a plan of action to address what he felt were shortcomings he took advantage of recruiting for the Crimson Tide. One of those was demanding facility improvements, but others were for more support staff, a bigger recruiting budget and higher staff payroll, among others. Behind the scenes, he wants UGA to build a bigger, better weight room, and you can bet he has other items on his wish list.
And he’ll get them — as long as he keeps winning championships.
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