ATHENS – As Nick Chubb began deliberating his NFL choice, one of the first people he sat down with was his head coach. Plenty was discussed, but one thing that stuck out to Chubb was what Kirby Smart said about his own playing career at Georgia.
“He told me in his position when he was in here he had an OK team, he could have left his junior year, I think he said that, but he wouldn’t pass up his senior year,” Chubb said. “That was the best decision he made was coming back, and I felt the same way about it. I made the best decision for me.”
Their situations were slightly different: Smart, as a junior back in 1997, was coming off a second-team All-SEC season when he had six interceptions, and while his senior year saw him make first-team All-SEC, he was an undrafted free agent. Chubb, on track to be the second-highest rusher in Georgia history, was projected as at least a mid-round pick.
Still, what Smart said obviously had some sway with Chubb, who shocked many – perhaps even Smart – by deciding this week to put the pros off for one more year. So did fellow tailback Sony Michel and outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy.
So what was Smart’s role? As he pointed out, it’s not like recruiting high school players: While you’d obviously love it if someone good enough to play in the NFL stayed on your college team, you also have to be honest. Trying to hard to keep them in school can backfire.
“I have to be really careful that I’m not a recruiter. Because that’s not what’s best for these young men,” Smart said. “They have to make that decision. Their families have to make that decision. All I’m going to do is give them the information. And I think if you educate them properly, then most of the time they make good decisions.”
Smart pointed to his time at Alabama, where head coach Nick Saban has had 22 players declare for the draft since he and Smart arrived in 2007. That may seem like a lot, but considering the talent that’s come through there it’s actually pretty low. LSU, by contrast, had 23 players go in the past four years alone.
Georgia has actually had a similar track as Alabama, tending to keep it to a minimum. Last year only one Bulldog declared early, and not only was it justified – Leonard Floyd was the ninth overall pick – but it was a year later than most expected Floyd to leave. Since the end of the 2010 season, the Bulldogs have had nine players declare, with all but one being drafted, and five went in the first round.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for coach Saban in that regard,” Smart said, pointing to his former boss’ process of gathering information for prospects, and trying to make sure players only leave when they have little to gain by staying another year.
Early in Saban’s tenure, a few players did leave too early: Glen Coffee left a year early after the 2008 season and was a third-round pick. He quit the NFL after one year and eventually joined the Army.
But since then Alabama has had the vast majority of its early entrants go in the first round: Thirteen of the 22, with six others in the second round. Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen had a second-round grade last year, Saban told CBSsports.com. After passing on the draft, Allen is now widely projected as a top 10 pick, perhaps top five.
“The first couple years at Alabama, we had some guys come out that probably have shouldn’t,” Smart said. “And that culture changed as we stayed because the education got better. And that’s what we’re hoping to achieve here.”
Based on what happened this week, Georgia may already be there.