Towers’ Take: Early missteps don’t spell ‘doom-and-gloom’ for Kirby Smart’s regime
ATHENS — The tendency right about now is to pile on.
Yes, there has been some pretty questionable coaching going on at Georgia this season. Certainly there have been some poor in-game decisions made and some clocks mismanaged and some methodology to be second-guessed. Yes, the Bulldogs lost to Vanderbilt, an almost unpardonable sin in these parts in any year.
And then, on top of all that, Georgia’s starting inside linebackers — Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith — decided the hours after that aforementioned defeat would be a good time to flare up inside a dorm room at McWhorter Hall. That’s an unproven allegation, of course. Called to the dorms because of a that distinctive odor coming from Room 422, police couldn’t find any marijuana therein. But they’re sure they smelled it, confiscated several drug-related objects associated with it and filed a public report on it.
So it will have to be dealt with. Coach Kirby Smart and the UGA administration will have to decide how to handle that situation. They were already aware of it before news broke via DawgNation and other media outlets on Tuesday. So we should hear something relatively soon.
But none of this means that the Bulldogs are doomed under Smart’s leadership.
I’ve been asked about that a lot lately, about the direction of the program under the young new coach. Here we are just past the halfway point of the season, and Georgia sits at 4-3 overall and 2-3 in the conference with a date looming against SEC East-leading and 15th-ranked Florida (5-1, 3-1) in Jacksonville.
The good news is the Bulldogs have a week off beforehand. That’s the bad news, too. Now Georgia and its fickle fan base will get to sit in this muck and stew for an extra week as they await what they’ve already decided will be another disappointing weekend in Jacksonville.
It’s rationalization time for those who have always been in the pro-change camp regarding Georgia’s head coach. But I’ve never bought that this was a mean-nothing year because it is Smart’s first one. This was not a total rebuild for the Bulldogs.
A lot of people want to compare what’s going on with the Bulldogs in 2016 to what was happening with Alabama under Nick Saban in 2007. But it’s not the same thing. The Crimson Tide was coming off a 6-7 disaster the previous year under Mike Shula and was mired in an NCAA investigation that ended up further impacting the program with vacated wins and scholarship reductions. Saban went 7-6 that first season with a win over Colorado in the Independence Bowl.
Georgia is broken, but not that broken. Smart is here now because Mark Richt wasn’t cashing in with championships at a time when the East was there for the taking. And, truth be known, it was this year, too. That’s clearly not going to happen now.
The fact is, Georgia is as close to being 6-1 as it is to 2-5. That’s how narrow the margins are between winning and losing in this league.
“Every game has come down to the fourth quarter with the exception of Ole Miss,” Smart pointed out Tuesday. “Every one of those games easily could have gone either way. That’s SEC football. Welcome to the world we live in as coaches.”
The fact is, Georgia is a defended Hail Mary and a one-yard run from being 6-1 right now. Imagine what the attitude would be for the Cocktail Party then.
But that’s not the point. The larger issue is what Smart was brought here to do. He was brought here to bring energy and passion to the job. He was brought here to take recruiting to a new level. He was brought here to motivate and mobilize alumni and donors. He was brought here to merge the Alabama Way with the Georgia Way.
When you make a seismic move, to unseat a well-liked and highly-successful coach like Richt in the interest of making a “culture change,” aftershocks are going to be felt. Sometimes it goes the other way and everybody can get the boulder rolling in the right direction.
More often than not, though, you get what Georgia has now, which is information overload, resistance and inconsistency.
Not surprisingly, the frenetic Smart is not ready or willing to sit back and reflect. Like all coaches, he’s focused on accentuating the positives and correcting the negatives.
“The number one thing for me is we kicked field goals, made field goals,” Smart said during a news conference Tuesday at the UGA football complex. “We threw the ball well offensively, we’ve improved defensively based on the numbers we’ve put up. So there is improvement going on and the kids have got to see that. …
“In recruiting, kids have been really positive on the phone. They understand there’s a lot of opportunities to come in and play. That’s what we’re selling. We’re selling that this program is headed in the right direction. (That doesn’t change) just because we got upset and beaten by Vanderbilt.”
It’s important, though, at this critical juncture, that Smart keep this race car on the track. And this he has very clear: He’s not about to turn loose of that steering wheel.