Georgia football: As coaching carousel spins, Kirby Smart models steady consistency
Georgia proudly likes to claim several rivals, almost in every direction. And glance any way the compass points these days, and there is some kind of tumult as every rival looks to steady shaky ground and get back on track.
All around the country there is almost a weekly update of a Power 5 coach or 2 being fired lately. Closer to home, Georgia has seen it in just a couple years with almost all of its chief rivals.
There’s Geoff Collins at Georgia Tech trying to fight off a losing record in his 3rd season with the No. 1 team in the land on deck. There’s Bryan Harsin at Auburn, who is in the midst of a 3-game losing streak with Alabama around the corner. There’s Tennessee, which has an upstart offense, but is still in 3rd place in the SEC East with a losing conference record. And of course, there’s Florida, which has crashed and burned this season for sure, but is also about to hire its 4th coach in 9 years.
It is often described that the coach, athletics director and president/chancellor need to be aligned and stable for consistent success. Yes, Georgia has largely had that too in the past 20 years, but coach Kirby Smart said it goes beyond that, to training and support staff. He specifically cites Director of Player Development Jonas Jennings and Ron Courson, the Executive Associate Athletic Director for Sports Medicine.
“I think building it on a strong foundation, not on trying to have a great one year,” Smart said on Monday. “To build a program, you have to build it on a foundation of strong recruiting, strong people in your organization, retention of staff. Administratively, you got to have tremendous support because you got to be able to go out and hire all the things you need for recruiting. It’s so important to have help, and we’ve got tremendous help here in terms of our staffing. I’m talking about the overall picture … to the recruiting staff that we have here, to the coaching staff, to the support staff. All those roles matter so much.”
It’s not just about those, who have offices in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, it’s that Smart has been in the middle of a changing landscape in college football almost since he arrived back in Athens. The transfer portal, Early Signing Period, and managing the College Football Playoff schedule is something only a handful of coaches in the country have done. Smart admitted on Monday that all those changes have caused some coaches to choose to work in about the only other cut-throat league that can stack up against the SEC, the NFL.
“The stakes have gotten higher,” Smart said. “The pay has gotten higher, and with that, comes expectations. It’s a different landscape now than it was even 4 or 5 years ago in terms of portal, recruiting, number of initials. Everything changes so fast. It makes it tougher. It’s a much tougher job. I think you’ve seen a lot of people in our level go to the next level, because it has a little less strain on your family and things. I know it’s a tough atmosphere.”
The one-time transfer rule is the latest curveball, but it’s not as easy as treating it like college free agency.
“If you’re not building it from the ground up, you’re not developing players and you’re not keeping your players within your organization, you’re going to struggle,” Smart said. “The flip side of that is the better you are in your organization, sometimes the longer it takes for a young player to play.”
Think of it as the difference between a crockpot meal, and a microwave snack.
The other layer is the lifeblood of the program, recruiting, and not letting it lapse for even a season. Case in point, for as well as Georgia has recruited in recent years, the Bulldogs still entered this season with major questions in the secondary, and still needed help from the transfer portal. There have been a rash of injuries at wide receiver, and the team has continued to fuel its “RBU” reputation with a slew of running backs who all seem to offer a unique wrinkle.
This week against Georgia Tech will put all of this on full blast, and in the SEC Championship Game and College Football Playoff, consistency and a sturdy foundation will also be on full display.