Biggest improvement Georgia needs to make is on sideline

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Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is as intense and energetic on the sidelines during games as he is on the practice field. His decision-making skills need to be equally sharp.

ATHENS – Georgia is three days into preseason camp. In that span, there has been a lot of talk about making improvements.

So far coach Kirby Smart has talked a lot about how the Bulldogs need to get better on special teams, on the offensive line and in the secondary. They need to establish a passing attack. He says they need to shore up in the areas of red-zone offense and defense. And Georgia does.

What he hasn’t addressed quite as much is another area in which the Bulldogs need to show marked improvement.

Coaching.

That’s just a fact. The Bulldogs have to get better on the sideline during games. They have to make better decisions. They have to execute better. Particularly, they have to get better in tight games.

Georgia was deficient in that area in Smart’s first year in 2016. UGA made questionable decisions late in an inexcusable home loss to Vanderbilt. Georgia Tech scored 14 points in the final 6:28 to register a 28-27 upset. And lest we forget the Tennessee game. The list of late-game gaffes that occurred as the Bulldogs squandered a 10-point lead in that one was a mile long.

Yes, there were tight outcomes that went Georgia’s way, too. Certainly some good moves were made to beat Missouri and Kentucky in the final minutes and seconds. And the Bulldogs closed hard and fast to defeat TCU in the Liberty Bowl.

So there was progress. And there needs to continue to be.

I asked Smart after practice Tuesday what steps he’d taken in the offseason to foster his own improvement.

“I talked to a lot of head coaches,” Smart said. “I always do that. I don’t like getting specific about who because that’s not really fair to them. But we ordered some things, a couple of things we bought through the athletic department that we think will help us in two-minute situations and situations that occur throughout the year in the NFL and in college football. As a coach you’re always trying to grow. You want to see how guys managed or mismanaged situations, so when that situation comes up for you, you’re more prepared to manage it.”

That’s good news for Georgia. If the program is to live up to the expectations being levied on it this year, it’s going to have to get better coaching. And that extends beyond the head coach’s headset.

Smart himself talked about how poor execution in the red area hurt the Bulldogs last season. Well, there is no place where coaching is more important than when your team finds itself inside the 20 on offense or defense. The field shrinks. Well-conceived plays are more important, execution is far more crucial, coolness under pressure is required.

All that comes down to coaching. Georgia needs to improve in that area.

This is not meant to criticize Smart. It’s merely an observation, one I assume was fairly obvious as Georgia stumbled to an 8-5 record in Smart’s first year at the helm.

Recognizing one’s own weaknesses and addressing them is the No. 1 core value taught in any leadership training. So it’s good to know that Smart has embraced that.

And it’s not unique to Smart. Most first-year head coaches encounter issues on the sideline, whether it be clock management, in-game operations, play-calling, what have you. That’s why there tends to be great improvement on the field between Year 1 and Year 2 of a new regime. Just look at the careers of Bob Stoops and Urban Meyer and even Georgia’s own Mark Richt as evidence.

Meanwhile, you have to like everything else that’s going on under Smart. The Bulldogs have fully integrated into their new $30.2 million indoor facility, and they have a practice complex that stands second to none in the SEC in terms of fulfilling the needs to succeed. Construction will commence at season’s end on a $63 million addition to Sanford Stadium that will include a locker room and recruiting lounge.  Smart and his staff have closed on two straight top-10 recruiting classes.

Every time I turn around, the Bulldogs are making a new hire to their ever-growing support staff. They’re not hiring a replacement for somebody who has left a job. Rather, they are adding positions and paying the people who fill them quite well.

Right now, Smart is getting everything he wants. Sooner or later, though, it’s going to come down to converting it all into wins.

That starts and ends with him.

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