ATHENS — One of Georgia’s most high-profile former players is very happy about the hiring of Kirby Smart, which isn’t surprising, because they’re former teammates.
Hines Ward sent a text message congratulating Smart, his teammate at Georgia from 1995-97, and called Smart “a great fit” for the head coaching job.
“I’m excited for Kirby,” Ward said Wednesday on the Paul Finebaum radio and TV show. “He was a teammate of mine at Georgia. We’ve known each other for a long time, for so many years. I think he has that pedigree of being under coach (Nick) Saban so many years. I think he’s a true player’s coach. He sees how the defensive players respond to Kirby. He’s one of the first guys on the sideline celebrating with the guys.
“And I think he has a little chip on his shoulder. He wants to come home and kinda change that aura about Georgia. He played for the University of Georgia, so now he’s getting his first opportunity to be a head coach. It’s gonna be exciting.”
Ward also expressed an interest in joining Smart’s staff, reiterating comments he’s made before about becoming a Georgia coach.
“I’ve still got the itch to coach. I’ve always said that one day I would like to coach, and if I ever got the opportunity the place that I would like to do it is back at the University of Georgia,” Ward said. “When Kirby Smart’s name kinda came up as a head coach, it’s something that you kind of get that itch for. Man, how great would that be to be a part of his staff and help my alma mater at the University of Georgia, try to get them to the promised land.
“Who knows what will happen in the future. I’m still blessed with the opportunity to work at NBC. I enjoy my job each and every weekend. In the back of my mind, it’s hard not to think what it would be like to go back (to Georgia.)”
Ward has mentioned the possibility of coaching at Georgia several times since his NFL playing career ended in 2012. But nothing has come of it yet, and it’s not likely to this time either. Bryan McClendon, the current receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, is likely to be retained by Smart, according to sources and reports by several other outlets. So is running backs coach Thomas Brown, which would make it hard to make room for Ward on the staff.
Ward has an estimated net worth of $16 million as a result of his NBC job and other business ventures, as well as his remaining salary from his playing days. College football assistant coaches are also well-paid – several of Georgia’s position coaches earned $400,000 this year. But they also have to work long hours and pretty much the entire year.
“I cannot lie, it’s something that is very intriguing to me,” Ward said of coaching. “But I still love doing broadcast. I don’t have to work all the year, I don’t have to get on the road recruiting. I can just work during football season and have my offseason. So it’s something that I can sit back and have to think about at the end of the year.”
As for Mark Richt’s firing, Ward said he understood. He praised Richt’s ability to develop young men, but felt that after 15 years he could see why the school wanted a change.
“They want to return back to the glory days. They want an opportunity to get that championship. Fifteen years of coaching and to fall short of a championship, I just think it ran its course,” Ward said. “He’s a great coach, but sometimes change is good.”