After 15 seasons under Mark Richt, UGA will have a new head football coach roaming the sideline.
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, a former player and assistant coach for the Bulldogs, is the man expected to fill that role.
“He’s a really talented guy, smart, detailed, thorough, passionate,” former UGA quarterback D.J. Shockley said this week while volunteering at an Allstate Good Works event. “He’s an intense guy, can get after guys and I think his type of demeanor will work really well at Georgia. He’s a Georgia guy, played there, so obviously he has those ties. And I think that’s what makes him special. He understands what the Georgia tradition is all about.”
Following a coach such as Richt, who helped create much of the “Georgia tradition” Shockley referred to, won’t be easy.
While the situations they arrived in will be different, the paths Smart and Richt took to get to Athens, Ga. really are quite similar.
“Well, Kirby reminds me a lot of what Coach Richt was like when he first came in,” said David Greene, another former UGA quarterback. “Very similar situations. Coach Richt had been the offensive coordinator at Florida State during all those heydays when they were winning national championships and competing for national championships on a consistent basis, and he was calling the plays. Bobby Bowden was the head coach, so he was learning the whole time how to be a great coach under Bobby Bowden.
“Very similar situation with Kirby. Been coaching under Nick Saban, defensive coordinator, going to national championships, competing in the SEC Championship game year in and year out. Very similar situation, similar age and there seems to be a similar hunger to go after it.”
At the end of his 15 seasons with UGA, Richt seemed worn down and tired and his perception was one that he couldn’t take the program to the top. Smart will inject new life into a program that had become stagnant toward the end of the Richt era.
Still, with so much success under Richt, how much change in the program’s philosophy will be needed with new management?
“For any head coach to come in, you have to be able to do it your way, said former UGA All-American offensive lineman Jon Stinchcomb. “He’s (Smart) not brought here to be a clone of Mark Richt. It’s for him to have the freedom to lead the program as he sees fit, with the understanding that there are certain aspects of what coach Richt brought to the University of Georgia that we feel as a Bulldog Nation is woven into the fabric of Georgia Bulldog football.”
Stinchcomb believes Smart’s first stint as head man will be a “tough gig,” especially at UGA, because of his lack of head coaching experience. Regardless, Smart’s performance as a coordinator at Alabama speaks for itself.
His ability to build suffocating defenses helped Alabama capture three national championships, and has it in a position to compete for a fourth. Smart’s prowess on the recruiting trail has kept the cupboards stocked, turning one or two years of excellence into nearly a decade of dominance.
“Well I know if I were a player, I’d be excited to know that I’ll have an opportunity to play for a coach that’s been in, and a part of, so many championships,” Matt Stinchcomb, Jon’s brother and another former All-American offensive lineman for UGA said. “I mean, he was party to I think two championships when he was at FSU, he was a coach at Georgia in the ‘05 championship year. He’s got the three SEC Championships at Alabama, and three national championships. So the guy’s been in it, and around it, and he’s seen it. He’s seen what it takes to build it, and he’s also seen what it takes to maintain it.”
Richt rejuvenated a UGA program that had taken a step back since Vince Dooley’s days as coach. During his time at UGA, Richt’s teams consistently competed in the toughest conference in college football. If Smart does indeed take the challenge, expectations will be even higher.
Fair or not, Smart will have to carry UGA new heights. Almost won’t be good enough. Just playing for conference titles has to be in the past. The only way ousting Richt and hiring Smart makes sense, is for Smart’s history of success to follow him to Athens.
“I think guys are receptive to that because they want to be better,” said Shockley. They came to Georgia to win championships, they came to Georgia to be the best.”
NextUpdate on Kirby Smart and Georgia’s staff