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Mark Richt and Kirby Smart both won 32 games in their first three seasons at Georgia.

Why the Kirby Smart-Mark Richt record comparisons don’t really paint an accurate picture

Connor Riley

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The Kirby Smart-Mark Richt record comparisons aren’t a bad thing, yet

When opposing fan bases want to take a shot at Kirby Smart and all that he’s done in his first three seasons as the head coach at Georgia, they’ll point out that his record is actually worse than that of his predecessor, Mark Richt.

Through three seasons, Richt was 32-8  as the head coach at Georgia. That’s slightly better than Smart’s 32-10 mark from 2016-18. Both coaches won an SEC Championship in their second season and both lost in the SEC Championship game to end their third season in the Classic City. Richt and Smart were also 0-2 against Nick Saban coached teams, with Richt’s two losses coming when Saban was at LSU.

If DawgNation were around in 2004, we almost assuredly would’ve talked about how close Georgia seemed to winning a title. The defense had a number of standouts, such as David Pollack and Thomas Davis. It also had an experienced quarterback returning in David Greene. But Georgia dropped SEC games against Tennessee and Auburn that season and didn’t even play in the SEC Championship game.

Georgia got close a few times after that ’04 season, but the Bulldogs had a number of confounding stumbles throughout the Richt era. In the end, he became known by many as a good coach but never a great, championship-winning coach.

Rival fans — looking at you Florida fans —like to infer that because Smart won as many games in his first three seasons that history will now repeat itself. That under Smart, Georgia is going to continue to get agonizingly close to winning a national championship without actually winning one.

But when you take a deeper look at some of the specific wins and losses, there are some stark differences between how Richt and Smart got to this point.

Related: Incoming Miami transfer compares Kirby Smart to Mark Richt

For starters, the overall talent in the program is better under Smart than it was under Richt. While the recruiting data wasn’t as comprehensive in the early 2000s as it is now, there were still recruiting rankings. Georgia consistently signed classes in the top-10, but in Richt’s first four recruiting classes, the best he did was seventh.

In Smart’s first four recruiting classes, the worst he has done is 6th. In his last three recruiting classes, the Bulldogs have signed the No. 3, the No. 1 and the No. 2 overall classes. While Richt’s teams no doubt had talent, comparing positions like the offensive line and secondary, Smart’s Georgia teams have a talent edge.

It should also be pointed out that three of Richt’s eight losses came against the Florida Gators. In each of Richt’s first three seasons, he lost in Jacksonville. And while he did beat the Gators in 2004, Florida hired Urban Meyer that offseason and then proceeded to dominate the rivalry for the rest of the decade.

Smart conversely has owned Florida in each of the last two seasons. The Bulldogs have outscored Florida 78-24 each of the last two times the schools have faced off.  And when it comes to the recruiting trail, Smart is steamrolling Florida head coach Dan Mullen in an even worse fashion.

Related: Paul Finebaum says Kirby Smart ‘won the day and maybe won the war’ over Dan Mullen

Richt’s teams did face some competition from the top of the SEC East, as the Bulldogs also played close games against Tennessee during the early part of his time in Athens. In the past two seasons against SEC East opponents under Smart, Georgia hasn’t had a game decided by less than 14 points.

Smart and Richt are fundamentally different coaches. Richt was always calm and collected for the most part on the sidelines. Smart displays a much more firey and aggressive persona.

To some, Richt’s laid back manner proved to be a detriment to Georgia when trying to keep up with the rest of the SEC. That won’t be the case for the Bulldogs under Smart, as he’s continued to push for new facilities even after the recent indoor practice facility and West End Zone project.

Lawrence Cager is one of the few people on this upcoming Georgia team who has interacted with both Richt and Smart. The former Miami wide receiver recently arrived at Georgia as a grad transfer.

And when speaking with DawgNation’s Mike Griffith last month, he gave some further insight into the differences between the two Georgia head coaches.

“With Coach Richt it was like, ‘We’re here to do this and that and handle business,’ ” Cager said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s turn it up!’ Kirby will say ‘Let’s turn it up on them!’

“Coach Richt was more like, ‘Look, we are coming here, it’s Florida State, we know what we have to do, we need to line up and beat them.”

But most importantly when it comes to discussing Richt and Smart, the thing that some seem to forget is that it wasn’t a problem what Richt did in his first three years at Georgia. If Georgia had more consistently played up to that level at the end of his tenure, he might still be the coach at Georgia.

But when you factor in the blowout losses to Florida in 2014 and ’15, along with the clear fact that Georgia and Alabama were not on the same level, it became necessary a change had to be made.

We mentioned earlier that Richt had lost twice to Saban at the beginning of his career at Georgia. When the two met in Richt’s fourth season in Athens, the Bulldogs came away with a 45-16 victory. It just so happened that Auburn went unbeaten that season, but early on, Richt’s program wasn’t seen as a step below anyone or been marred by a truly embarrassing loss, as was often the case in later seasons.

Smart’s program still has yet to beat Alabama, but it could’ve just as easily beaten the Crimson Tide in each of the last two seasons. If a gap between Georgia and Alabama still exists, it’s razor-thin.

So sure, let fans point out that Richt and Smart have won 32 games over their first three seasons in Athens. Because at this point that’s about the only real comparison you can make between the two coaches.

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