Kirby Smart may become the biggest coaching legend UGA has ever seen.
Oh so very close. That’s how to best describe what Kirby Smart has done at Georgia in his four seasons at Georgia, and he’s really just getting started.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has had the Bulldogs on the brink of being the next big dynasty in college football, and before his time is done in Athens he could very well break all the records for UGA head coaches.
While it’s only been four years, Smart already has the best winning percentage (.767) for any Georgia head football coach who stayed for more than one season. Who has the highest, you may ask. That would be Robert Winston, who went 5-1 in his lone season as head coach in 1894.
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Falling below Smart are legendary Georgia coaches Herman Stegeman, Mark Richt, and Vince Dooley. So, thus far, Smart is in pretty good company when it comes to the UGA coaching lineage.
There were many who believed Richt was going to be the next coach of a UGA dynasty, and while he did raise the program to a higher level than his two predecessors Ray Goff and Jim Donnan, he was never quite able to close the deal.
Kirby Smart has had a similar start to his Georgia head coaching career, but fans and those outside the confines of Athens all sense something very different. Smart is simply a better recruiter, a better judge of talent on his staff, and — in almost all respects — a better coach than Richt.
The 10-plus win seasons will likely continue as a regular trend at Georgia under Smart, and many in the media and knowledgable college football circles think he’ll be the next coach not named Saban, Swinney, or Orgeron to win a national championship.
Kirby Smart is in the right place at the right time
After spending over a decade doing a paid internship under Nick Saban at Alabama, and having turned down numerous job offers during that time, Smart finally got the job he waited for at his alma mater.
The fact that he held out until Georgia was ready for a new head coach should be an indication that he has no intention of leaving UGA, and will probably need to be dragged away when his time is done. This is simply the right place for Kirby Smart, but the question begs, is it the right time?
Conventional wisdom says that if you’re entering a head coaching career at the same time Nick Saban is in the middle of his peak, you’ve picked the wrong time to do it. Add to that the meteoric rise of Dabo Swinney at Clemson, and you may have doubled down on your mistake.
For most coaches that would probably ring true, but Kirby Smart is actually using the higher level of competition to his advantage.
Smart learned a lot from Saban as a member of his staff, and he’s continuing to learn as a cross-division rival. He’s also seen what Swinney has built just an hour up the road in Clemson and rather than scoffing at the Tigers “weak ACC competition” he’s working on duplicating parts of their success.
Sure, there are bound to be mistakes and growing pains while a head coach begins to perfect their craft. Nick Saban had a few up and down seasons at LSU before winning his first national championship in 2003, and still has made his share of hiring and coaching blunders during an unprecedented run at Alabama.
I don’t think anyone in Tuscaloosa is unhappy, and a decade from now it’s likely we’ll be looking on Smart’s career at Georgia with similar envy.
Kirby Smart has the opportunity to become the greatest head coach in the history of the Georgia football program. He could (and very well may) bring multiple national championships to UGA and will likely shatter every key coaching record that stands in Athens.
None of that was evident after his first season, or even after the second, when Georgia just missed winning a national championship. But seeing what Smart has been able to do despite some setbacks and losses that would make a lesser coach fold up his tent and settle for bowl eligibility and wins against rivals as a career goal, is impressive.
Anything is possible, particularly in the SEC. Kirby Smart could suddenly forget how to coach the way a pitcher forgets how to throw heat. He could get a juicy offer from another school and decide to chase the money. He could even just decide to mirror Urban Meyer and cite stress and health issues until the next nice job rolls around.
But that’s all unlikely. Chances are, Kirby Smart will be around Athens, Ga. for a long time and will have his name spoken with the same reverence as the last man to lead Georgia to a national title, Vince Dooley.