ATHENS — If we’ve learned nothing else about Kirby Smart in his 28 months as Georgia’s football coach it’s that he likes to do things big.
Right off the bat, we found out he likes to go big with spring football games. In 2016, he announced that G-Day should for that year become “93K Day” as he sought to pack Sanford Stadium for the annual intrasquad game. And UGA fans did, to the point that it probably should have called “100K Day.”
Smart is calling for something similar again this year, though with the West End construction project still ongoing and eating into seating capacity, it might need to be called “73K Day” instead.
Smart told us immediately upon arrival that the Bulldogs needed to get bigger on the offensive line. Since then, they’ve added seven players who stand at least 6-foot-4 and weigh 315 pounds or more. Depending on how things shake out, Georgia’s starting guards and tackles this fall will average 6-5½ in height and weigh 335 pounds, Center Lamont Gaillard is a relative runt at 6-2, 308 pounds.
And now, we find out that he likes to go big with coaching clinics, too.
That’s right. Smart is pulling out all the stops for UGA Coaches Clinic 2018, which begins Thursday at the Butts-Mehre Football Complex. Get a load of Smart’s lineup of instructors:
- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn
- 2017 NFL Coach of the Year Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams
- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, 5-time Super Bowl champion.
I guess Vince Lombardi wasn’t available.
So, once again, Smart is going big. It also represents some big bang for the buck of the 700 or so high school coaches who already have paid the $70 registration fee to attend. That’s a steal for that level of instruction.
Keep in mind, the UGA Coaches Clinic isn’t just where small-time coaches show up to listen to big-time coaches talk. According to the UGA’s marketing info, it’s “a comprehensive clinic” that allows these high school coaches to socialize with, “talk ball” with and attend “chalk-talk” break-out sessions with these NFL coaches.
The Bulldogs also are going to open their actual pre- and post-practice meetings during the three-day clinic, which gives the coaches the opportunity to attend Georgia’s practices on Thursday and Saturday.
“We’re going to let coaches come and sit in our meetings and learn,” Smart said. “Not many people are willing to do that in their clinic. But I’m trying to give back to them because they are our feeder program. … We’re trying to give back to the high school coaches in Georgia and really all over the country.”
The annual UGA Coaches Clinic always has been a big deal, whether it was being conducted by Mark Richt or Ray Goff. But, traditionally, the featured speakers would be fellow high school coaches who had won a state championship the previous season or one who had a record of sustained success that made others want to hear from him. It always has featured break-out sessions with Georgia’s assistants, with defensive line coaches talking D-line with other D-line coaches, and so on.
But as Smart has in so many other ways at Georgia, he has cranked it up a notch with the addition of not just one NFL coach, but three of them.
Don’t be misled. This, too, is another competitive endeavor in college football and in the SEC in particular. And it can have recruiting implications. UGA recruits its home state the hardest, and the majority of participants in Georgia’s annual clinic coach in the state.
Not lost in all this is the fact that Alabama’s Nick Saban will host what he calls the Clinic of Champions April 12-14 in Tuscaloosa. And Saban’s dance card is scheduled to include Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson of the Philadelphia Eagles, Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers along with his special teams coordinator, Ron Zook.
Apparently Alabama has been known to pull in 500 or so coaches to its clinics. So, naturally, the ever-competitive Smart said he hopes to draw more than 1,000. If his other endeavors are any indication, he’ll probably get it.
But Smart insists that’s not what it’s about. It’s about giving back to the coaches that provide UGA one of the most fertile talent streams in college football.
“The state of Georgia has the best high school coaches in the country because our state education is such that they get good benefits, they get good pay,” Smart said. “So if they’re developing tough, hard-nosed, disciplined football players, guess who I get to inherit? Those guys. So it’s somewhat of a minor league for us, so I really believe you should give back to them.”
Once again, the NCAA sort of forced Power 5 football’s hand on this. The reason the big programs are going so heavy with NFL coaches now is new rules prohibit them from paying high school coaches to speak at their clinics. Well, at least, they’re prohibited from doing so if said coaches are associated with a current player or recruit your team is pursuing.
As one might imagine, that pretty much eliminates every coach in Georgia for the Bulldogs, and certainly the most notable and accomplished ones.
“We’re going to put the best speakers out there,” Smart said. “[The NCAA] already made a rule where we can’t have a high school coach come speak. So when you take that away, why would high school coaches want to come to our clinic if they can’t watch other high school coaches speak? You better have a star-studded cast to get them to come.”
The NCAA did the same thing when it comes to high school coaches helping at summer camps. That was another way the prep coaches could make a little walking-around money while also building relationships for possible career advancement. Now they’ve taken that away.
I’m sure that rule change was initiated because of documented abuses somewhere. But it does seem to be another unfortunate turn for high school coaches. Well, it did until Smart and other coaches decided to go big with their clinic.
I don’t imagine Georgia high school coaches are complaining too much about having to hear from Belichick rather than Rush Propst this year. That’s a big get.
But, as we’ve learned, that’s the way Kirby Smart rolls.