2018 Offers Georgia Bulldogs Head Coach Kirby Smart a Chance to Step Out of the Shadow of his Mentor, Mark Richt
The Kirby Smart Hater stops by almost weekly to put his own unique spin on the Georgia Bulldogs football program. Here is is first contribution to the 2018 season.
Much to the chagrin and disbelief of Georgia fans around the world, the Dawgs are not—in fact—on top. To the contrary, there’s a strong case to be made that Georgia is actually the worst football team in the country. Truthfully, that take is a little too hot even for my kitchen, but there’s something to be said for the fact that no team in the country has lost a game as recently as Georgia. All we really know at this point is that as recently as January 8, 2018 Georgia was definitely worse than at least one other team (Alabama). We don’t know that any other team was worse than Alabama that day and we have no reason to believe that any team in the country has been worse than Alabama since that day. Georgia could literally be the worst team in the country. But I don’t actually think that’s the case.
But remember, the Dawgs are not on top. Further the very notion that Georgia is almost at the pinnacle of the sport is a bit ridiculous. We can’t really say with any certainty that Georgia is even the best team in the state under Head Coach Kirby Smart. They were for a brief period better than Georgia Tech last year, but they also lost to Tech in Smart’s first campaign. I’m not sure that either effort should be weighted more than the other, so Smart’s Dawgs are basically just as good (but not better) as Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets. Smart is also 1-1 against the state of Mississippi, thanks to a loss to Ole Miss in 2016 and a win over Mississippi State in 2017. Under Smart, Georgia is a combined 2-2 against the state of Tennessee with losses to both Vanderbilt and Tennessee in 2016 and wins over the two programs in 2017. How about the state of Florida? Yep. You guessed it. Smart is .500 against the Gators too (loss in 2016 and win in 2017). Smart was 1-2 against FBS opposition from Alabama in 2017 alone (lost to Auburn, beat Auburn, lost to Alabama).
In fairness, there are states in which Georgia would (based on recent experience) be the best team in the state (North Carolina thanks to a 2016 win over UNC and a 2017 win over App State, Missouri thanks to 2016 and 2017 wins over Mizzou, South Carolina because of wins over the Gamecocks in 2016 and 2017, Kentucky because of wins over the Wildcats in 2016 and 2017, Louisiana because of a win over LaFayette in 2016, Texas because of a win over TCU in 2016, Indiana because of a 2017 win over Notre Dame and Oklahoma because of the Sugar Bowl). But does the map below imply that Georgia is the best team in the country? Spoiler: It does not!
I think the crushing reality presented above is what makes moving on from the 2017 season so damn difficult for the Kirby enthusiasts out there. Saying, “Well, we were just one bad play away from winning a National Championship in Kirby Smart’s second season,” sounds a lot better than, “Two years into the Kirby Smart Experiment, Georgia would be the best football program in just eight out of 50 states.”
Alas, 2017 can’t be redone or re-written and many of the key components of last year’s squad are gone forever.
- Jacob Eason, forever QB1 in the hearts and minds of true Bulldog fans, is now at Washington.
- Nick Chubb and his 5,130 career yards from scrimmage and 48 touchdowns: gone.
- Sony Michel and his 4,234 total yards and 39 scores: also gone.
- Javon Wims, Georgia’s leading receiver a year ago: See ya!
- Roquan Smith, the team’s defensive MVP: Couldn’t wait to leave Kirby for a few bucks.
- Lorenzo Carter, who came up huge in so many critical spots: Later!
- Aaron Davis, a four-year starter: Peace out.
- Dominick Sanders, a four-year starter: He’s outta here.
What’s interesting about the guys above, however, is what they have in common. I’m talking about more than just moving on from the program. These guys were the very fabric from which last year’s somewhat successful team was woven. But more than that, these guys shared a crucial bond: They weren’t Kirby Smart’s guys. They were Mark Richt’s guys. People forget that.
We’re so quick to praise the unrivaled recruiting genius of Kirby Smart, but who built last year’s team? Not Kirby. No sir. This team was built by his longtime mentor, Mark Richt. You could make a case for Eason being a Kirby Smart recruit seeing as he signed in Kirby’s first recruiting class, and I’d listen. But only because I listen to stupid arguments all the time. The fact remains that if Jacob Eason wanted to play for Kirby Smart, he’d still be playing for Kirby Smart. Instead, he opted to spend another year without meaningful game experience at a third or fourth-rate program in the Pac-12.
If we’re going to give Kirby Smart credit for recruiting (which apparently is something people do now), then we need to discount his track record by the amount of credit due to Mark Richt for recruiting.
Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, Kirby Smart is 0-0 as a head coach. Year 1 starts now. And so does his opportunity to step out of the shadow of his longtime mentor and the man responsible for making Smart who he is, Mark Richt. People forget that long before Kirby was the head coach at Georgia and even before his brief stints with the Miami Dolphins and Alabama Crimson Tide, Smart got his first taste of winning at an elite level under former Georgia head coach Mark Richt with an SEC Championship as an assistant with the Dawgs in 2005.
Now, he must find a way to move out of that shadow and establish a name for himself. How does he do that? In a word: winning.
Smart must find a way, for the first time in his career, to approximate the level of winning Georgia fans grew accustomed to under Richt. That won’t be easy. Smart already has a worse winning percentage than Richt against the SEC (Richt won 69.2% of contests while Smart has won 68.8% of conference games) even with the “bump” of rolled over goodwill from the Richt Era. Further, he’s been categorically worse against Georgia’s primary rivals and crucial opponents.
|Opponent||Richt Winning Percentage||Smart Winning Percentage||Edge|
2018 is something of a make-or-break year—not so much for Georgia football but for Smart’s foray into coaching. Wins over perennial powerhouses like Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Georgia Tech will help him inch towards the ever-rising standard left by Richt. But ultimately it may be Richt’s absence that saves Smart and breathes new life into his coaching lungs. Of course, I’m talking about the absence of the Richt-coached Miami Hurricanes on Georgia’s schedule. Much has been made of Georgia’s weak schedule in 2018, and surely it is a benefit to not draw the likes of Alabama in the regular season. But the nail in Smart’s proverbial coffin could have been a regular season game against Miami.
After all, Smart’s long-time mentor, Mark Richt, has never lost a game when coaching against a former assistant.
Until next time,
-The Kirby Smart Hater