I understand the angst about firing Mark Richt. He was a 15-year coach who understood the college athletics mission better than anyone, coached and molded young men the right way and gave Georgia nine-plus wins a season, even if too often they weren’t the right wins.
I understand the angst about the expected hiring of Kirby Smart. He never has been a head coach and, while he is recognized as one of the nation’s top young assistants, he is a defensive coordinator for a head coach (Nick Saban) whose specialty is defense — and so the cynical thinking goes, how much credit should he really get for Alabama’s success?
But this makes sense on a number of levels. According to the Journal-Constitution’s Chip Towers, Georgia is set to hire Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator, as its head coach as early as Sunday or Monday. So right off the bat, the Bulldogs can save travel expenses: Smart will coach the Crimson Tide’s defense against Florida in the Georgia Dome Saturday and he could be in Athens for an introductory news conference a day or two later.
Is Smart the perfect choice? There’s no way of knowing that. He never has called the shots before. And, yes, like many, I would have liked to see athletic director Greg McGarity shoot for the moon with an established and successful head coach to take over one of the nation’s five best coaching jobs. But the Smart hire could be the right hire. A few reasons:
• Alabama has had the best program in the nation over the last eight years, winning three national championships (2009, 2011, 2012, with another potential one coming this season), three SEC titles (I’m guessing it will be four after Saturday) and six SEC West titles (often the gateway to the national title game). This doesn’t guarantee Saban’s coaching off-spring will be a success, and indeed there have been some flops. But I’ll take my chances that Smart has benefited from osmosis in meeting rooms and practices. He must have some insight how Alabama came to Athens twice in recent years and waxed the Dogs both times — 41-30 in 2008 and 38-10 this season. Want to beat the best? Steal from the best.
• With dysfunction on the coaching staff this season, it is believed the administration is unlikely to bring back defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, a source of that dysfunction. So bringing in Smart at least ensures the defensive side of the ball is taken care of. If Pruitt is retained, all the better. But he may not want to stick around either, knowing the head coach now has a defensive background. Smart and Pruitt worked together in Tuscaloosa but I’m not sure that’s a factor in this case.
• I’m not a believer that a program needs to hire “one of its own.” But it does help that Smart played at Georgia and understands the landscape, both in the state and across the SEC. He’s also an excellent recruiter and the fact the Tide will be playing this week and most likely in the college football playoffs has to be an advantage at a time when some recruits are waffling.
Everybody will want to see who Smart brings in as his offensive coordinator and what style offense the Dogs will run, particularly quarterback Jacob Eason (who took a visit to Florida Tuesday). Everybody will want to see what decisions Smart makes in crucial situations and with games on the line. There are never guarantees with new coaches. But I think this hire makes sense.