ATHENS — Remember the “Georgia Way” we used to hear about so much? Well, it’s no longer the Georgia Way at Georgia. It’s now the Alabama Way at Georgia.
Kirby Smart has brought an A-shaped template with him from Tuscaloosa and he has laid it over the Bulldogs’ football program. It can be seen in virtually every facet, not the least of which is the coach’s own schedule.
For as long as I can remember – and that’s going back to the Dooley Days — UGA held its weekly news conferences on Tuesdays. The Bulldogs held their preseason news conference on Monday, which just so happened to coincide with the opening of preseason camp, but they’ll also be conducting the weekly news conferences during the regular season on Mondays. That is the way Nick Saban has always done it at Alabama.
Likewise, Smart will no longer be doing the coach’s radio call-in show on Monday nights, as has always been the Georgia routine. That has been moved to Thursdays, which is also when Saban does his.
Same with the Sunday teleconference call. Traditionally, Georgia coaches have always taken media questions during a 30-minute phone call on Sunday afternoons following games. Alabama doesn’t do that; neither does Georgia as of this season.
These similarities extend to other areas as well. For instance, the Bulldogs circulated video of the team’s newcomers frolicking on Lake Oconee with Coach Smart and his family on Sunday. Smart said Monday it was a spontaneous decision to do that. It certainly looked like fun and will no doubt have a positive impact on recruiting. But it’s not original.
The fact is, it’s exactly what Saban does every year at Alabama. He takes the first-year players out on Lake Tuscaloosa the weekend before camp begins.
And you know how Georgia scrapped the traditional Fans Picture Day it has always conducted in favor of an open practice at the stadium followed by autographs this Saturday? That comes straight out of the Saban playbook as well. The Crimson Tide will be holding their open practice at Bryant-Denny Stadium this coming Sunday.
Of course, there are a lot more pertinent on-field, process-oriented imitations Smart is bringing to Georgia from Alabama. The Bulldogs’ daily workout and practice routine, for instance, is almost a carbon copy of what they’ve been doing over in Tuscaloosa the last nine years. Smart and the Georgia players talked Monday about doing a lot more weight work in the gym this summer, “pushing through pain” to attain greater maximum lifts. That’s, of course, how they do it at Bama.
And Smart espoused many of the same edicts for Georgia’s preseason camp that commenced Monday. He talked about how these next 28 practices will have virtually nothing to do with getting ready for the season opener against North Carolina on Sept. 3 in the Georgia Dome. The goal of camp, he said, is “to establish the identity of your team.” That’s something Saban has talked about a time or two.
“It’s not an exact footprint of what was done the last nine years at Alabama,” Smart said of his plans and processes, “but it’s pretty close.”
All of which is fine. Who could blame Smart?
First off, it’s all he knows. Smart has been at Saban’s side for the last nine years at Alabama. During that time, the Crimson Tide has won 85 percent of their games and captured four SEC championships and four national championships.
Just for comparison sake, the Bulldogs won 71 percent of their games and zero championships over that same span.
Bottom line, the Bama way works.
“I don’t know what Georgia did before,” Smart said Monday “I didn’t go back and research it and see what they did before and how many practices they had and what time they practiced and what time they met. That’s not really what’s important to me. We met as a staff. I met with both coordinators and we came up with the best practice organization for us.”
Will all this manifest itself in similar winning ways for the Bulldogs? Obviously, we will all have to take a wait-and-see attitude on that. But we’ve seen such copy-cat tactics work before.
Remember when Mark Richt showed up at Georgia from Florida State? Before that, nobody in these parts had heard of “mat drills” or “finishing the drill.” Richt talked then of closely following the script established by his mentor, Bobby Bowden, at FSU. They’d finished in the Top 5 in 14 consecutive seasons down there.
A year later, Georgia had won its first SEC championship in 20 years. The Bulldogs went on to have their best seven-year run in decades.
Can the Bulldogs expect similar early success? Kirby’s counting on it.