Georgia football head coach Kirby Smart talked at SEC Media Days about the one thing that is going to stand between his team and a historic third successive National Championship. Complacency.
“The threat for us is complacency” said Smart during his opening remarks.
"“The first thing you have to do is acknowledge that it’s a threat. Like if you acknowledge the complacency is a threat, it’s the first step towards stomping it out”."
Which is easier said than done as history tells us this is a tall order for the Georgia Bulldogs.
Can Georgia football avoid the pressure which killed Florida?
History in the making
Not since 1936 when the Minnesota Golden Gophers won three straight National Championships has any team in the nation got as close as Georgia has to winning the “three-peat”. Which means that there is pressure on Smart and his talented team from the get go. Arguably there is three times the normal pressure to win a Natty but in reality the pressure will be many times as much. To become the first team in modern day playoff history to win three in a row catapults the Bulldogs into legendary status.
As much as Smart wants to guard against complacency, the expected pressure on his team to win it all again will increase on a daily basis from the opening day of the season and only build with each game thereafter.
Just imagine if Georgia is undefeated post the Ole Miss game on November 11th. Expectations from not just the fans but the media and anyone with an opinion will be sky high as the Dawgs travel to Neyland to face the Tennessee Vols on November 18th. It is at this point that Smart and his coaching staff really start to earn their salaries.
The 2009 Gators – a stark reminder
You don’t have to go too far back in history to find a very real example of what pressure can do to a head coach and his team.
If you watched the Netflix Untold story – Swamp Kings you saw first hand what high expectations and the pressure that came from those did to Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators.
During the documentary Meyer talked about the never ending pressure to win in Gainesville coaching the Gators. As we know Meyer has well documented health issues resulting from the intense pressure he experiences from coaching football.
"“What happens when the anxiety and the fear of failure overwhelms you”, said Meyer when being interviewed for the Untold series on Netflix.“I would just have these moments where I was sweating and shaking – like a panic attack. I felt like a failure. I was in deep depression. I couldn’t get out of bed. I thought I was going to die”."
Which is shocking in itself, however it was Meyer’s admission of the expectations he faced immediately after he won his second National Championship with Florida that was most shocking. The Florida head coach talked about not being able to enjoy the euphoria of winning a National Championship. Rather the dawn of reality that he would move straight on to planning his next assault on college football. In fact Meyer talks about being in a side room calling recruits on the night that the Gators won the Natty – while his players celebrated in the next room.
"“That one’s over… do it again. It was over – on to the next,” said Meyer during the documentary. “We won two National Championships out of three years. This was the expectation now. An expectation we have to win it next year. And we have to win it the year after. And we have to win it the year after that. Anything less than winning a National title and you’re a failure.”"
And whatever the Gators head coach was feeling, it was radiating to his players who quickly too were feeling the pressure.
"“We are on the field and the entire time I’m in anguish because we’re not being perfect. And that permeated down to our players and they weren’t enjoying it,” said Meyer."
Tim Tebow, the Captain America of this amazing team, talked about the pressure of playing on that team. Not only was there a pressure to win another National Championship there was a pressure not to take a misstep along the way .
"Tebow told the documentary makers, “there was such pressure to do more, to be more. To finish on another level. To be the best ever. When we played Mississippi State in ‘09 we were just trying to handle the pressure and the weight of the success that we had.”"
The quotes by head coach and the leader and superstar quarterback are quite damning in the way in which the team folded under the intense outside pressure. But it highlighted that no one was protected from the pressure. Clearly the Gators played football in different times when mental health was not talked about as openly as it is now. But yet there appeared no suggestion that the administration or coaching staff were trying to protect their student athletes.
Towards the end of the documentary Meyer said “,for me it was all about the fear of losing that one game. Don’t screw this up, don’t be a failure.”
And if this was the thought process of the head coach then there really was no chance of protecting his players.
Why this won’t happen to Georgia
Why won’t Georgia football succumb to this pressure. Well, Kirby Smart does not give off the impression that he is struggling with his success. Far from it.
"“We will not be hunted at the University of Georgia. I can promise you that” Smart told the collective media at SEC Media Days in 2022. “The hunting we do will be from us going the other direction. We’re not going to sit back and be passive.”"
This quote sums up well Smart’s philosophy towards building a dynasty in Athens.
"“We didn’t build this program on hoping for one-year-wonders or hoping for one opportunity,” Smart said. “We built the program to be sustained. You sustain it by what you do every single day.This program was built to be here for a long time. We have an unbelievable footprint with which we get to recruit.”"
Of course Georgia did just this and followed through on Smart’s promise. The 2022 Bulldogs finished the season unbeaten defeating the TCU Horned Frogs by 65-7 in the season finale. While there were games along the way where Georgia looked like they may slip up they did not. It was a commanding & dominant season from the Dawgs.
In the off season, Georgia has not given the impression that they are weaker. They may be even stronger.
We can go back to the argument that this is no longer 2009 and the game has progressed significantly in many ways since then. But that is being disingenuous to both the Gators and the Dawgs. Both will be remembered as great teams in college football in years to come.
The pressure that Kirby Smart and Georgia will face this year is real and will be a huge test of character. But rather than fear it as it appears the 2009 Gators did, it seems that the Bulldogs are embracing it. It’s almost as if Smart has his team using the pressure to make them collectively stronger.
Smart has turned his players into super-heroes, which is genius.
But I still reckon everyone associated with Georgia football will need nerves of steel traveling to Neyland Stadium on November 18. Watching history in the making is going to be fascinating this year.
Buckle up folks this is going to be one heck of a ride.