Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart prepares to run onto the field with offensive lineman Xavier Truss (73) and defensive lineman Zion Logue (96) before their NCAA football game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, November 26, 2022, in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 37-14. Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Perplexing SEC Coach of Year Poll, Jeremy Pruitt weighs in on Tennessee, Georgia

ATHENS — Kirby Smart turned arguably the biggest reloading season in college football history into a perfect regular season and ranks among the lead candidates for national coach of the year.

But Smart might not even win SEC Coach of the Year, according to a recent league-wide poll by SEC Network host Peter Burns.

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Georgia lost an NFL-record 15 players to the draft, and did so amid a transfer-friendly era that saw the Bulldogs lose 13 players to the transfer portal, including four former starters.

To boot, Smart also lost four of his 10 assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Dan Lanning off last year’s team.

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What’s more, Smart didn’t even finish second, with recency bias kicking in and South Carolina coach Shane Beamer getting the second-most votes.

Burns, himself, said his vote would go to Smart.

“There is zero doubt that Kirby deserves the COY award this year,” Burns told DawgNation. “With as many players as he lost to the NFL & transfer portal and not miss a beat....that’s incredible.”

Jeremy Pruitt, a former head coach at Tennessee and defensive coordinator at Georgia, Alabama and Florida State, weighed in on the SEC coach of the year topic during the Ingles On The Beat Show on Monday.

“You look at South Carolina on the back end, two huge upsets,” Pruitt said. “Then you look at the body of work in Knoxville with Josh Heupel, where they started the season and how they finished, and then Brian Kelly, nobody saw that coming.

“But I go back to Athens, Georgia, and what Kirby Smart has been able to put together,” said Pruitt, who coached beside Smart for six years on the Alabama staff.

“You see a team that continues to keep their poise, it hasn’t been pretty at all times, but they keep their poise and lean on people, and they find a way and that’s what good football teams and good programs do.”

Burns suspects the poll might have been tilted by the Vols strong online fan presence.

“Online polls are only as good as the people that see them and participate, (and) my guess is that Tennessee fans helped tipped the social media scales,” Burns said.

“Each of the four has an argument, but what Kirby did, especially considering they didn’t take a single transfer was what put him over the top for me.”

A Georgia injury report and SEC Championship rundown is included in the YouTube show below, along with Pruitt weighing in on the CFP rankings and his thoughts on the league championship games.

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