Kirby Smart has had less than 60 days to recruit for UGA, and in that span, the four-time member of the All-SEC academic honor roll has made several big decisions.
We’ll break down his five biggest moves on the recruiting trail up to this point.
UGA’s smartest calls
1. Not giving Jacob Eason any reason to look elsewhere
Smart never resold the nation’s No. 2 QB on UGA. That’s not the right picture to paint regarding his influence on making sure Eason signed with the Bulldogs. Eason has said he really never de-committed from UGA. He just explored other options.
The Smartest moves regarding Eason’s recruitment began with getting on a plane as soon as he was hired. Then he acted fast to hire a well-balanced duo at offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. He announced them while Eason was on his UGA official visit and their credentials ensured that Eason and his family were comfortable with the new regime.
2. Not worrying about the price tag to hire Sam Pittman away from Arkansas
Sure, he gave the man a 3-year deal and a handsome $650,000 salary, but that was worth it to walk into living rooms touting that UGA now has the best offensive line coach in college football.
Pittman’s hire and the paltry sack totals his lines have given up in the SEC was another reassurance for Eason. Pittman’s charisma and resume also allowed UGA to get back in a great position with 4-star offensive line prospect EJ Price.
The thinking at work here is sound: If UGA can’t win in the trenches, then Eason and all those future first-round draft picks in the backfield will not be as effective as they can be. Pittman is clearly the home run hire of this staff so far. He even got UGA late official visits from two of the nation’s top offensive tackles.
3. Focusing on very big fish
Smart has signed Eason and the nation’s top-rated tight end in Isaac Nauta. That means the Class of 2016 already has two five-star prospects in the fold. But then he’s made the right moves to make sure five-star athlete Mecole Hardman, Jr. has kept his eyes on UGA while also pulling out all the stops to ensure that five-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown and five-star receiver Demetris Robertson consider UGA until the 11th hour of their respective decisions.
He has immersed himself into each elite prospect’s recruiting at just the right times for maximum benefit.
4. Thinking outside the hedges
Recruit great players? That’s not that hard to do, but Smart has also faced some tough choices. UGA essentially stopped contacting a pair of commitments from Mark Richt’s board. Those prospects have since landed at Central Florida and Georgia Southern. With all due respect to those programs, that’s evidence the previous staff might have reached a bit in their evaluations.
How so? Well, UGA de-commits are much more likely to wind up in the SEC at stops like Arkansas, Kentucky or Ole Miss than those programs.
Smart has also invigorated the fan base with new wave recruiting tactics like helicopter visits to schools, clever tweets and also bringing a live bulldog to visit an Alabama commitment. Have you seen Smart on Periscope (the live video streaming smartphone app) with recruits yet? He sounds like he’s reading lines from a Will Ferrell script.
He’s also encouraged everyone on the trail to still continue to call him “Kirby.” He still the same guy even though he’s now the head coach at UGA.
5. Looking ahead to 2017 and 2018
It was clear Smart was thinking about 2017 and 2018 while making those tough calls on the previous commits to Richt’s program. The staff was active during his first days at UGA calling on prospects who won’t arrive at UGA for a while.
Perhaps the biggest coup was nailing down the first recruit of the Smart era. Richard LeCounte III, a five-star junior from Liberty County in South Georgia, was his first commitment. He was considering Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State. Smart’s hire ended that debate.
The charismatic playmaker will draw comparisons to future NFL Hall of Fame member Ed Reed on Saturdays, but he’s also proven to be a seriously gifted behind-the-scenes recruiter. There have already been at least three recruits that LeCounte has lobbied extensively to commit to UGA.
Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.
Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.