Dear Coach Smart,
Welcome back to Athens! And congratulations on going out in style at ‘Bama with another national championship.
As I’m sure you’re aware, for the past few years you were pretty much the popular choice to replace Mark Richt (whenever and however he left), thanks to your Bulldog bona fides and your experience as defensive coordinator for one of the most consistently successful college football programs around.
So, a lot of folks in Bulldog Nation are very pleased to see you finally back at your alma mater.
But, as I’m sure you’re also aware, you’re replacing a guy who was fired despite having numerous seasons with double-digit wins. Of course, Richt wasn’t fired for not winning enough games; rather, for not winning enough big games or championships.
So, yes, the bar has been set kind of high for you – quite a bit higher than most new coaches face.
I asked DawgNation readers what their most realistic expectations are for you as Georgia’s head coach.
Some said they recognize that you inherit a lot of talent from Richt, but also that there are some positions that need bolstering, rebuilding or development. So expectations for your first year are modest.
However, college football fans are an impatient lot generally, so the second season of the Smart era looms large for some.
A fan who goes by Weldon said he expects your Dawgs “to win an SEC title within two years. Richt did it.”
He added: “We should expect 11 wins per year at a minimum and [have] top 5 recruiting classes annually. … If we don’t win the SEC at least a couple of times and make at least 1 playoff appearance in the first five years, then I think letting Richt go was a HUGE mistake!”
Likewise, Kevin Michael Grammer said: “I expect to contend for a national title in year 2.”
Yeah, no pressure at all.
Actually, I think you’ll find the Bulldog Nation as a whole will be a bit more realistic than that. You do not have to win 11 games next year because Richt’s last team won 10 (against a relatively easy schedule). Richt wasn’t fired because of his winning percentage.
He was fired because he hadn’t won a conference title in a decade, presided over embarrassing losses in high-profile games, and, thanks to a tendency to make questionable in-game decisions and his very poor personnel choice in hiring Brian Schottenheimer (and the resulting staff “mutiny”), his bosses no longer had faith that he had the judgment to make the needed changes.
So, what are our expectations for you as you take Richt’s place? Let’s run down a few:
- Stop the unexpected, humiliating blowouts to teams the Dawgs are supposed to beat. Yes, it’s a given Georgia can’t win every game, but your teams should be competitive in every game and we should never see another no-show like happened the past two years in Jacksonville.
- Be flexible and always willing to examine what works and what doesn’t. Richt took too long to do this, particularly with his staff. Recall that it was Mike Bobo who incorporated spread and hurry-up concepts into Richt’s beloved pro-style offense, and it worked really well. But, when he left, so did the innovations. If a coach doesn’t seem to have it (given time to work things out), move on. If a scheme needs to be tweaked, tweak it. If an amazing dual-threat QB from Georgia shows up on the radar, SIGN HIM.
- Players should still be expected to behave and should be punished or dismissed if they don’t. I would encourage you to discuss with your bosses whether UGA’s marijuana policy is a bit out of line — not only with rival programs’ policies, but with changes taking place across the country — but, overall, there should be no lowering of disciplinary standards. The next Zach Mettenberger or Jonathan Taylor should be just as swiftly kicked out of school as before.
- If you need something, demand it. There was a lot of talk about Richt not having resources that rivals had (an indoor practice facility, recruiting staff, etc.). While a large portion of blame for that falls on the Butts-Mehre leadership for being too tight-fisted, Richt also didn’t seem terribly aggressive in demanding what he needed until he got shown up by his feisty defensive coordinator. If you need something to keep an edge (that isn’t unethical or illegal), demand it and keep demanding it until you get it.
- It’s not just about recruiting and hiring staff. Manage the game well. Even the best coaches miss on some decisions (Nick Saban and the kick-6), and you’ll never win big if you avoid risk. But be smart about clock management, subbing, pooch kicks, etc. Sure, some days the other team will just be better, and some days 18- to 22-year old kids phone it in. But Georgia has left too many wins on the table from sheer game mismanagement.
- This is a big one: SPECIAL TEAMS CANNOT BE A BIZARRE DUMPSTER FIRE CIRCUS. To be fair, the Dawgs had some great returns this year (thanks, Isaiah) and the kickoff coverage was vastly improved. But, for too long this has been a major aspect of the game that wasn’t given proper emphasis by the head coach. Whenever a question comes up in regard to special teams, ask yourself, “What would Richt do?” And then do the opposite.
- You will need to get UGA back in the SEC title game during the Jacob Eason era. The fact that Richt didn’t even make it to the game while he had Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno in Athens still boggles the mind. Basically, you’re in Athens now because of the 11-year drought since the Dawgs last took the SEC. If you win the conference, chances are good that you’ll also make the College Football Playoff. That, for starters, should keep most in the Bulldog Nation happy.
To sum up, I’ll quote from a letter I received from UGA fan Pete Talmadge:
“Bill, my expectations for our new head coach are to change the culture of complacency to one of relentless drive and to never be satisfied with yourself and what you have done. Week after miserable week I watched UGA sink to the level of the inferior talent we faced. … I got the feeling we were too afraid to fail and not willing to take chances. We got stuck on a nowhere road and we not only failed to correct glaring errors (special teams, anemic offense), we actually regressed to the point of diminishing expectations. I have great respect for Mark Richt the man, but as a head coach he played not to lose and failed to take advantage of the wealth of talent and resources available at UGA.”
That’s why, in recent years, Georgia became known as college football’s biggest underachiever.
We’re counting on you to change that mentality, Coach Smart.
In closing, if you can somehow combine the elevated standards of Nick Saban with the class and compassion of Mark Richt, you’ll be a coach for the ages. I’m excited to see you get started.
And, again, welcome back!
- Kirby Smart heads to UGA ‘happily exhausted’
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- Podcast: Kirby Smart’s task at Georgia
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.