ATHENS – As soon as Monday’s national championship game ends, Kirby Smart’s full attention will finally be on his new job. Smart will arrive at the Georgia head football coach’s office as soon as the next day, this time with no more Alabama distractions.
There will be no time for dilly-dallying. The recruiting period re-starts on Jan. 14 and basically doesn’t stop until national signing day on Feb. 3. There will be also plenty of other matters that need attending.
Here are the five top looming priorities for Smart:
1. Defensive coordinator
Officially, there is only one spot on Kirby Smart’s staff yet to be filled. But it’s a major one.
The longer Smart goes without officially naming one, the more likely it is that it will end up being Mel Tucker or Tosh Lupoi, two Alabama defensive position coaches. In that scenario Smart has known he was going to hire Tucker or Lupoi and he held off in order for Alabama to have one less distraction before the national championship.
The tea leaves are heavy in Tucker’s direction: He has always coached the secondary but so has Jeremy Pruitt, who’s been hired as Alabama’s incoming defensive coordinator. So it follows that the two could easily just trade places. In the case of Lupoi, the team’s outside linebackers coach, it’s worth noting that Smart has announced the hire of recruiting coordinator Marshall Malchow – who worked with Lupoi in 2014 on the staff at Washington.
But most in the coaching industry expect it to be Tucker. Once the coordinator is announced Smart will also presumably assign defensive position coaches. Right now the only spot that’s set is defensive line, where Tracy Rocker will be again. Kevin Sherrer is also being retained but it’s not clear whether he’ll coach inside or outside linebackers. Glenn Schumann’s position has not been assigned either.
Probably the biggest recruit is already in place, with quarterback Jacob Eason reaffirming his commitment last month. But the weeks before signing day will still be hectic for Smart, who at least has the benefit of having recruited a similar area while at Alabama.
Had Mark Richt stayed, Georgia was on pace for its best recruiting class in years. The key for Smart will be keeping that going, and adding some of his own. Tight end Isaac Nauta, another five-star, is favored to pick Georgia this weekend. Smart will also try to bring in three more five-stars who were favoring Richt before his firing: defensive lineman Derrick Brown, athlete Demetris Robertson and athlete Mecole Hardman. And Smart has put Georgia in the mix for five-star outside linebacker Lyndell Mack Wilson.
3. Designing offseason workouts
The big step was just taken: Smart brought in Steve Sinclair from Marshall to lead the strength and conditioning program, along with Ed Ellis, who had run UCF’s program. The pair had worked together at Georgia Tech and UCF.
But with three of Mark Richt’s former S&C staffers off to re-join him in Miami, Smart now has to fill out the other three spots on the staff. Either way, the culture change is under way.
Now, the type of workouts and emphasis has to be determined and put into action. There are always opinions on whether players at certain positions should be faster and leaner or bigger and physical. While Smart and his staff are on the road recruiting, Sinclair and his staff will be working on the current players in Athens.
4. Who stays, who goes (player edition)
There is always attrition with a coaching change, and there’s always been attrition at Georgia anyway. Smart and his staff have undoubtedly already been watching film and evaluating the personnel they inherit. It’s unlikely they’ll come in and start yanking scholarships – that’s not been the Georgia Way, plus it just looks bad. But the depth chart heading into spring practice will surely be adjusted in many spots, and players will be informed just in case they’d like to try elsewhere.
Of course it could also work the other way: Players who had been thinking of leaving might change their minds in the hopes of a new staff will give them a fresh look.
5. Doing an internal evaluation
This is a deeper process, and one that won’t happen publicly. Smart told players in his initial meeting with them that the difference between Georgia and Alabama was a small “margin of error.” Smart, if he doesn’t already think he knows, needs to study from the inside what that entails.
What has been holding Georgia back? Has it been something about the practice set-up? Has it not been getting enough support staff? Is there something secret the rest of us don’t know about The Process that Smart will be able to bring over from Alabama?
This final priority – identifying what internally he feels needs to be corrected – may ultimately become the most important thing Smart does over the next few months.