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Expectations are already sky high for Kirby Smart at Georgia


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Thursday, May 26, 2016
Expectations are already sky high for Kirby Smart at Georgia


By Chris Low 
ESPN Senior Staff Writer 

 

 

Kirby Smart
Kirby Smart is off and running at Georgia, where great things are expected of Mark Richt's successor.

 

ATHENS, Ga. -- The May evaluation period is winding to a close, and the assistant coaches' offices at Georgia's Butts-Mehre football complex on this rainy morning are mostly empty.

The assistants are scattered out on the road recruiting, and as their boss so appropriately puts it, trying to find players who can beat Alabama.

"That's the standard in this league," says Georgia first-year coach Kirby Smart, who has had a close-up view of that standard for the past nine years, as one of Nick Saban's most trusted assistants. "At the end of the day, if you're not beating the teams on the road recruiting that you have to beat on the field, then you're probably not going to win many championships."

Like all head coaches, Smart isn't allowed by the NCAA to be off campus recruiting in May, but he's still going 100 mph prepping for a different kind of recruiting trip. He's about to catch a plane to visit a group of big-money boosters, and he's taking a video his staff put together of some of the swanky facilities other programs in the SEC, namely Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M, have built in recent years.

"We've got to recruit at the same level of the people who are winning titles and playing for titles, and to do that, we've got to have great facilities," Smart explains. "We have the resources and the people within the radius of us to build those facilities, and we're going to recruit like crazy. We've just got to have the facilities to get them in here."

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If you get the best players in this state, you should be winning championships.

 

- Georgia coach Kirby Smart

Georgia was behind at least half the SEC schools -- and just about everybody in the Western Division -- in the facilities arms race when Smart was hired. A long-awaited $30.2 million indoor practice facility was already in the works and should be completed by January. Smart's checklist also includes an expanded locker room at Sanford Stadium, a recruiting lounge at the stadium for recruits and their families and a new weight room that will feed into the indoor facility.

"We have to keep up, and that's the message I'm putting out there," says Smart, who is candid about the stakes of taking over for Mark Richt, who averaged nearly 10 wins over his 15-year career and was universally respected, yet was still fired.

Five-year plans in college football have long since been extinct, especially in the SEC. They went out with the rotary phone. Even four-year plans can be sketchy, and though nobody's coming right out and saying it, the fan base in Georgia, now brimming with optimism, will quickly turn impatient if Smart hasn't won an SEC title within three years.

"Let's be honest. Georgia, if you get the best players in this state, you should be winning championships," says Smart, who hasn't slowed down since he returned to his alma mater in January.

The Bulldogs recruited well in Smart's first class (seventh nationally in ESPN's rankings). He's confident they will recruit even better in the 2017 class, in which they are currently fourth in ESPN's rankings. Smart knows the state of Georgia and its high school coaches like he knows the 3-4 defense -- like he's one of their own.

That's because he is. The Bainbridge, Georgia, native is the son of a high school coach and played for the Bulldogs from 1995 to '98, including as a team captain the last season.

"I think that's why so many people are excited to see Kirby back," says former Georgia coach Jim Donnan, who coached Smart his last three years at Georgia and gave him his start in coaching as a graduate assistant in 1999. "He's helped bring a lot of the Georgia people together. He's been able to jump right in because he does know so many people, and they know him. He knows what needs to be done here and knows what a championship program looks like, and I think you saw with the 93,000 showing up at the spring game that he's got the fans behind him."

Kirby Smart
Georgia fans are looking for the same passion and intensity -- not to mention championship rings -- that Smart displayed at Alabama.

The 40-year-old Smart feels the pressure. He isn't afraid to say so. There's always a little bit more when you come back home, especially when the challenge is to go from double-digit wins to championships.

Further, this is the job Smart has been patiently waiting for since he became one of the most respected defensive coordinators in college football at Alabama. He didn't jump at just any head-coaching opportunity. He was a finalist for the Auburn job when Gus Malzahn was hired in 2013, and he didn't flinch when some suggested his head-coaching window might be slowly closing.

"Every day I pull into that parking spot that says head football coach, I get out of my car and pinch myself sometimes, just to make sure it's real, sort of like, 'Is this really happening?'" Smart says.

"I feel the pressure of the whole state. I mean, you feel it every day, and we haven't played a game. I want to be great. The people that love this place, I want to be great for them. I want to be great for us. I want to be great for these players. At times, it's overwhelming when you start thinking about the magnitude of it, but that's what we all signed up for, and I'm honored to be here."

Smart is the first to concede he won't be here for long if he doesn't start adding to the football trophy case quickly. Richt wasn't fired because he didn't win enough games. He won games at a 74 percent clip. He was fired because he didn't win enough of the right games and, after winning a pair of SEC championships in his first five seasons, didn't win another SEC title in his final 10 seasons.

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I feel the pressure of the whole state ... At times, it's overwhelming when you start thinking about the magnitude of it, but that's what we all signed up for.

 

- Georgia coach Kirby Smart

The last SEC championship trophy to make its way to the Bulldogs' football complex came in 2005, and you have to go all the way back to 1980, when Herschel Walker romped his way into college football immortality, to find Georgia's most recent national title.

Smart was Richt's running backs coach in 2005, and he speaks with reverence when discussing his predecessor. At the same time, Smart has heard plenty from fans about what they want to see out of the new regime.

"What Mark did was remarkable," Smart said. "Averaging almost 10 wins over 15 years in the SEC is really amazing. But in the last five or six years, the East has been down, and you also have to be competitive with the West. So we know exactly why we're here and what the expectations are, and I can assure you we have those same expectations.

"If you win the SEC, you're going to be in the [College Football Playoff]. That's the aiming point: going and winning the SEC and getting in that four and then going and playing teams that maybe aren't as good as the ones you played during the year."

One of the things Smart has heard most from fans, other than their frustration with the championship drought, is that the program has become stale.

"They want passion and energy in the players," Smart said. "They want passion and energy out of the coaches. They want humility too. A lot of the fans have been like, 'We're tired of our players feeling like they're entitled when they really haven't done anything.' Their complaint is, 'We won 10 games, but who did we beat?' And it might be 12 wins one season and then eight or 10 wins another season and then eight and then six.

"They want consistency and performance, and that's what we're grinding every day to bring them."

 

 


 


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I love the attitude he has brought. I can't wait to see how the team responds to it come fall.

My favorite part:

"If you win the SEC, you're going to be in the [College Football Playoff]. That's the aiming point: going and winning the SEC and getting in that four and then going and playing teams that maybe aren't as good as the ones you played during the year."

At least we're down to double digits now.

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I just feel like Kirby Smart is aggressive as H#LL, much in the manner of Urban Meyer when it comes to recruiting and Kirby is in Athens and he is demanding things from the power brokers behind the scenes, Greg McGarity and the UGA President.

Kirby is basically saying - Here is Bama - Here is what they do - if you want to compete w/ Bama and Ohio State - do this or GTFO!    And no one in Athens is pushing back - this is Kirby's show - he has probably 3-4 years to prove it will work and he will have HAND as long as it does.

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3 hours ago, UGABOZ said:

I mean expectations at a school like uga are always high, but this year its tenn with all the hoop la they have all the pressure on them

   yep it's all on the vols this year.. it's THEIR year or so they and everyone else thinks it is. 

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Bama fan here. Kirby will get it done. You guys know as much about him as anyone. He's legit. You guys won't be losing major players from the state anymore. GA. will be on lockdown.  Oh and he can coach by the way. Working for Saban all those years...there is no pressure that he can't handle. He's the perfect age too with his experience.  UGA is going to be **** to deal with for many years. 

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58 minutes ago, Black Francis said:

Bama fan here. Kirby will get it done. You guys know as much about him as anyone. He's legit. You guys won't be losing major players from the state anymore. GA. will be on lockdown.  Oh and he can coach by the way. Working for Saban all those years...there is no pressure that he can't handle. He's the perfect age too with his experience.  UGA is going to be **** to deal with for many years. 

I'm just dying to see this team be a full load to handle even in a loss. Losing is never fun but getting blown out is just shameful. I'm really excited about the energy he's brought to the program though and I expect the Dawgs will be making some noise soon. I'm trying to manage the excitement with a guy who has never been a head coach, but he seems to 100% have his head wrapped around what needs to be done.

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1 hour ago, Black Francis said:

Bama fan here. Kirby will get it done. You guys know as much about him as anyone. He's legit. You guys won't be losing major players from the state anymore. GA. will be on lockdown.  Oh and he can coach by the way. Working for Saban all those years...there is no pressure that he can't handle. He's the perfect age too with his experience.  UGA is going to be **** to deal with for many years. 

I agree.....the only thing that scares me a smidgeon is these satellite summer camps - not crazy about Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh and any other SEC coaching staff coming to Atlanta or South GA and having these camps every year.    I just don't think these things should be allowed but whatever.

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"They want passion and energy in the players," Smart said. "They want passion and energy out of the coaches. They want humility too. A lot of the fans have been like, 'We're tired of our players feeling like they're entitled when they really haven't done anything.' Their complaint is, 'We won 10 games, but who did we beat?' And it might be 12 wins one season and then eight or 10 wins another season and then eight and then six.

"They want consistency and performance, and that's what we're grinding every day to bring them."

 

My favorite part

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9 hours ago, g-dawg said:

I agree.....the only thing that scares me a smidgeon is these satellite summer camps - not crazy about Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh and any other SEC coaching staff coming to Atlanta or South GA and having these camps every year.    I just don't think these things should be allowed but whatever.

I thought the NCAA squashed that? I know Saban was very vocal about not liking it. Didn't the NCAA follow his lead? I could have sworn I read that somewhere. 

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33 minutes ago, Black Francis said:

I thought the NCAA squashed that? I know Saban was very vocal about not liking it. Didn't the NCAA follow his lead? I could have sworn I read that somewhere. 

They did initially and then the NCAA did what they always do and contradicted themselves and re-opened the way. 

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10 hours ago, Carter said:

I'm just dying to see this team be a full load to handle even in a loss. Losing is never fun but getting blown out is just shameful. I'm really excited about the energy he's brought to the program though and I expect the Dawgs will be making some noise soon. I'm trying to manage the excitement with a guy who has never been a head coach, but he seems to 100% have his head wrapped around what needs to be done.

I have the luxury of being on the outside looking in. Don't get me wrong. I pull for the Dawgs as the flagship university of the state of Ga. I've lived here so long.  Grew up here and Bama and UGA do not have a natural rivalry although Bama's success does bring out a natural hate. Point being I'm not as close to this as you or other die hard fans. This is how I see it. UGA needed a culture change.  Something players and recruits can believe in. I have no qualms about any of my beliefs in the direction of this program. UGA has had nice runs. They would've been Natty Champs in 2012 with 1 more play against Bama. Still though the consistency has never been there. Not as a top program. Kirby will change that. Talk about waking up a sleeping giant. 

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25 minutes ago, 95Dawg said:

They did initially and then the NCAA did what they always do and contradicted themselves and re-opened the way. 

Ok. I wouldn't worry about it though. Heck you guys were losing 5 star recruits just across the state line. That is no more. Or it will at least be significantly minimized. I think guys 40 and over like myself have this irrational fear of the Michigans and Ohio States of the world coming down South to snatch up recruits. We view these programs the same way we did in the 70's 80's and 90's.  They're not the same. Granted OSU won a title and Harbaugh is legit but UGA has not really been losing recruits to these schools. They've lost them to other SEC schools.  Most of these kids still want to stay near home playing for a big time program so their Momma can come to the games. 2.5 million more people headed to the ATL in the next 20 years. That's the size of Charlotte. Nobody wants to live work or play in cold country anymore. Kirby is going to lock it down. 

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31 minutes ago, Black Francis said:

Ok. I wouldn't worry about it though. Heck you guys were losing 5 star recruits just across the state line. That is no more. Or it will at least be significantly minimized. I think guys 40 and over like myself have this irrational fear of the Michigans and Ohio States of the world coming down South to snatch up recruits. We view these programs the same way we did in the 70's 80's and 90's.  They're not the same. Granted OSU won a title and Harbaugh is legit but UGA has not really been losing recruits to these schools. They've lost them to other SEC schools.  Most of these kids still want to stay near home playing for a big time program so their Momma can come to the games. 2.5 million more people headed to the ATL in the next 20 years. That's the size of Charlotte. Nobody wants to live work or play in cold country anymore. Kirby is going to lock it down. 

The reason the satellite camps are significant is that it is impossible to "lock down the state" - always has been.  You have football powerhouses (some years) like Clemson, Auburn, Florida State just off the boarder of Georgia.  Heck, most kids in Columbus, GA probably identify with Auburn moreso than UGA because it is much, much closer.   The South Georgia high school teams are very close to Florida State.   Of course Alabama gets their share of UGA kids as well - it will be harder now that Kirby (Bama's main state of Georgia recruiter) is gone but they will still get Georgia kids.

I see Kirby doing better than Richt in our home state of Georgia but don't kid yourself,  Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh are not coming to the state of Georgia to do satellite camps because they are altruistic - it is 100% a recruiting tool - maybe they only get 1-2 three, four or five stars every other year, but they will get a few.

I am not going to lose sleep at night - Kirby will do a great job in the state and he will still need to go outside to supplement - but the camps are somewhat concerning - they just are as it will give those two top notch recruiters a foothold in our state, with the kids and with the high school coaches.

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Kirby has basically come into Athens and put Greg McGarity in his place (cut his ballz off) - Richt was too nice of a guy to do that.  Jeremy Pruitt tried to do it but he was just a defensive coordinator and did not have the credibility as a UGA guy - and he was too abrasive.

We needed the head coach to be the de-facto athletic director and now we have that in Kirby.

would love to hear SacFalcFan and Carter's reply to my comments above as I know they are both more plugged in to the UGA power brokers behind the curtain.

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Don't read too much into the lock down comment gdawg and I respect the heck out of the talents that Harbaugh and Meyer possess however I'm not fazed. Most kids would rather stay though. Richt and the administration gave them too many reasons to leave. I'm not hating on Richt either. It got stale. It happens. When I say lock down I'm talking about not losing guys from your backyard that UGA needs. Kirby said it himself that UGA never had as much talent as they thought they did. Or at least the right kind of talent in the right places.  Kirby will convice them to stay. Heck he's already convinced them to come! Look at his first recruiting class. Flipping players. Getting Ridleys brother. Ridley said he wanted to make a name for himself and not follow in his brothers shadow. You know Kirby planted that seed in his ear. He's that good. Oh and he can coach too! From the sidelines no less. You guys are in for some great years. You'll own the East. I believe that. Forget the national programs. Winning the SEC has always been most important to me. Win the SEC and then you'll have a shot at it all. Thats Kirbys focus. Just like Saban. 

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Really like what Kirby is doing and how he is going about it. Kirby Smart "get's it" in a way and at a depth that I can so appreciate!  He knows he won't get them all, or win them all, but he is grabbing the Bull by the horns so to speak and establishing himself as the Godfather, and the Georgia football program as the future of SEC football. He is embracing his multiple roles as a leader in ways that will pay some huge dividends to the G over many years to come.

The Giant has been awakened from its slumber....

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It wasn't even really that Richt was too nice... he just wasn't aggressive enough and didn't push back much on demands placed on him by the admins. He wasn't a pushover but he kinda let it devolve to the point it came to and yes it got stale. I think he lost his fire at UGA some years ago and the decisions that were made in 2015 cost him the job.

Players have come out talking about how OL coach Sale was lost... that he had no idea what he was doing and if it weren't for upperclassmen stepping up last season the OL would have been terrible. They have also talked about Schotty being a terrible coordinator. But we know those weren't Richt's first choices. Nevertheless he signed off on it and mismanaged a dramatic season that turned out to be his last in Athens.

It really can't be overstated how inept McGarity is. On a day when Kirby was in the media talking about how UGA needs to upgrade facilities and commit to excellence and beat Alabama - McGarity was at a board meeting apologizing specifically about Ludacris' rider and emphasizing to them that he has lost sleep over it. Much like Richt achieved the level of success despite the challenges, Kirby will have to fight that battle. But in contrast Kirby is more aggressive, pushes things, knows what to ask for and how to get it. He still has to pitch his ideas to get the funds going in the right places, but he has some influential support.

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5 hours ago, Carter said:

It wasn't even really that Richt was too nice... he just wasn't aggressive enough and didn't push back much on demands placed on him by the admins. He wasn't a pushover but he kinda let it devolve to the point it came to and yes it got stale. I think he lost his fire at UGA some years ago and the decisions that were made in 2015 cost him the job.

Players have come out talking about how OL coach Sale was lost... that he had no idea what he was doing and if it weren't for upperclassmen stepping up last season the OL would have been terrible. They have also talked about Schotty being a terrible coordinator. But we know those weren't Richt's first choices. Nevertheless he signed off on it and mismanaged a dramatic season that turned out to be his last in Athens.

It really can't be overstated how inept McGarity is. On a day when Kirby was in the media talking about how UGA needs to upgrade facilities and commit to excellence and beat Alabama - McGarity was at a board meeting apologizing specifically about Ludacris' rider and emphasizing to them that he has lost sleep over it. Much like Richt achieved the level of success despite the challenges, Kirby will have to fight that battle. But in contrast Kirby is more aggressive, pushes things, knows what to ask for and how to get it. He still has to pitch his ideas to get the funds going in the right places, but he has some influential support.

Really enjoyed your comments and insights above, Carter.

I just think that eventually KIRBY is going to get tired of McGarity and McGarity will be gone about two seconds thereafter.   There is so much momentum and buzz over UGA football right now and Kirby is not going to tolerate any resistance from McGarity if McGarity chooses to get in the way.   Kirby will find a "Yes Man" to sit in the athletic director's chair - it will be Kirby's hire to make.

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15 hours ago, g-dawg said:

Really enjoyed your comments and insights above, Carter.

I just think that eventually KIRBY is going to get tired of McGarity and McGarity will be gone about two seconds thereafter.   There is so much momentum and buzz over UGA football right now and Kirby is not going to tolerate any resistance from McGarity if McGarity chooses to get in the way.   Kirby will find a "Yes Man" to sit in the athletic director's chair - it will be Kirby's hire to make.

It's just aggravating that we don't fire the clown and hire someone who can run the athletic department in such a way that all programs benefit and improve from the natural advantages UGA has over the vast majority of schools.

I definitely agree that the momentum/buzz is there with UGA football right now. Kirby is busting his tail to seize the moment of opportunity in getting some upgrades and changes made while the fire is hot. There are regular updates about Kirby visiting with big money boosters and going to the athletic department to see about getting things done.

Two big things that should be coming along soon are new locker rooms and weight rooms. From what I've read, the staff don't even like to take recruits into the current locker room.

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I wasn't completely sold on CKS initially, but son of a gun if he hasn't completely sold me over the last few months. We are going to win a lot of games gentlemen, and big ones at that.  I can't help but feel we are on the precipice of an amazing decade, maybe more.  As always, great time to be a Georgia Bulldawg, but imo this run is going to be something we've never seen before.

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1 hour ago, ohiodawg8 said:

I wasn't completely sold on CKS initially, but son of a gun if he hasn't completely sold me over the last few months. We are going to win a lot of games gentlemen, and big ones at that.  I can't help but feel we are on the precipice of an amazing decade, maybe more.  As always, great time to be a Georgia Bulldawg, but imo this run is going to be something we've never seen before.

No doubt it seems like MO is everywhere. I'm curious what happens when we get sucker punched somewhere along the way. 

Will the team fold like in some of the past games (I hate saying being a loyal Richt supporter)?

Or will this team send a flying kick right back at their privates and then an upper cut?

i hope it's the last one. GO DAWGS!!

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