Georgia football: Firing arrows at Kirby Smart over Justin Fields is misguided
So it looks like Justin Fields, the presumed future of Georgia football, is headed out of Athens before his quarterback career ever really got started. Let the finger-pointing and bashing begin.
The former 5-star recruit, considered one of the two best players in the 2018 class along with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, was a major get for the Bulldogs last year. But after spending the vast majority of 2018 on the bench behind sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm, it looks like Fields is going to transfer.
People are slinging arrows at Georgia coach Kirby Smart over this transgression, and there are even some extremists who want him fired after losing a second 5-star quarterback in two years. The angst is real, and it’s getting loud.
You don’t have control of your program if you lose two 5-star quarterbacks in a year, they say. You’ll never get another 5-star quarterback again because this looks so bad, they say. You mishandled the whole situation and forced Fields out, they say.
Shame on you, Kirby, they say.
And to that, I say — shame on you for even thinking so.
The fact that Fields, like Jacob Eason before him, is transferring is not an indictment on Smart. This is more on Fields — who can’t handle that he lost a fair quarterback competition to Fromm — and more on the system. It’s outrageous hyperbole to think that Kirby Smart is becoming the next Kevin Sumlin who won’t be able to survive losing two stars, like Sumlin couldn’t at Texas A&M when he lost 5-star QB Kyler Murray, this year’s Heisman Trophy winner after transferring to Oklahoma, and Kyle Allen within a few months of each other.
You can’t put all these quarterback debates into one box and call them the same. This is not Texas A&M. This is not Clemson. This is not Alabama.
Here’s what you’re saying, and here’s where you’re wrong:
NEWS: Kirby Smart should have started Justin Fields over Jake Fromm all along this season so that a transfer would never be an option.
VIEWS: This is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Jake Fromm is one of the best quarterbacks in the country and he deserved to be the starter this year. He was better prepared to run the offense, looked better in fall camp and practice and played well all season, outside of a few glitches in the LSU game. I made the argument that Smart played Fields too much in the SEC Championship Game loss, putting the Bulldogs in down-and-distance holes too often when Fields failed to move the ball. There was a fair and true quarterback competition, and Fromm won. Insiders will tell you that it wasn’t even close.
NEWS: Alabama and Clemson handled their quarterback controversies better than Kirby Smart and Georgia did.
VIEWS: Wrong again. Let’s start with Clemson. It’s not the same as Georgia, because Trevor Lawrence, the freshman, was playing better than the incumbent, Kelly Bryant. Lawrence earned it — Justin Fields did not. And at Alabama, Jalen Hurts changed the entire narrative by bailing out Alabama in the SEC title game, and he earned that. Kudos to Nick Saban for keeping him around, but when Hurts transfers after the Playoff, is the narrative really the same? He, too, like Fields, lost the quarterback battle to Tua Tagovailoa.
NEWS: Kirby Smart will lose his job over this at some point, just like Kevin Sumlin did at Texas A&M, because you simply can’t lose two 5-star quarterbacks in a year.
VIEWS: More hogwash. You also can’t compare what’s happening at Georgia to what happened two years ago at A&M. Allen and Murray both left because Sumlin wouldn’t commit to either one of them. Communication between the coaching staff and the two quarterbacks was legendarily terrible. Sumlin was a recruiter, but no one calls him a great coach. At Georgia, Smart is doing just the opposite. He is committing to Jake Fromm, and with good reason. Fromm is 23-4 as the starter. And he will be the starter again next year. Why? He’s a better passer, and a better leader. There can only be one quarterback on the field, and that’s why there’s competition. I still firmly believe that Fromm gives Georgia the best chance to win a title in 2019.
NEWS: If he is indeed transferring, then Justin Fields basically lied when he said it was all about the team two weeks ago.
VIEWS: Look, I get it that you can’t fault a kid for wanting to play, and I don’t fault Fields for that either. He has a right to transfer, just like he had a right to go to any other school besides Georgia last year. He could have kept his Penn State commitment and replaced Trace McSorley next year as the starter. But he chose to come to Georgia, even knowing full well that Fromm was there and had led Georgia to the SEC championship and Playoff berth as a freshman. As I’ve said, Lawrence and Tagovailoa proved they were the better quarterbacks at Clemson and Alabama. Fields did not do that at Georgia.
NEWS: Georgia could have laid out a plan that made everyone happy.
VIEWS: Really? Come on. There are two guys, and one football. I wrote a story Monday that’s worthless and unpublishable now after the Fields transfer news, and it’s in the electronic trash can. What I basically said was that the best way to keep everyone happy is for Fromm to start in 2019 and then go pro. Fields could redshirt, and then have three years to be the starter from 2020 through 2022. With that, Georgia would be in position to contend for national titles for five years in a row with absolutely zero quarterback concerns. If Fields transfers, he’s sitting out 2019 anyway, unless he goes the junior college route. Why not just stay at Georgia, then play yourself for two or three years? It seemed logical to me. Especially if you say team does matter.
NEWS: Recruiting multiple 5-star quarterbacks never works.
VIEWS: I’m starting to believe that’s true. Whether some guys should have been labeled 5-stars at all is a story for another day, but it’s true that 11 of the 19 most recent 5-stars on the 247Sports composite since 2011 already have transferred from their first school. Some transfers — like Murray and Shea Patterson (Ole Miss to Michigan) — work out just fine. But it’s hard to keep two guys happy. Maybe the most logical approach is to not take 5-stars in back-to-back classes, but it’s really next to impossible for coached to turn down talent. That’s recruiting. They’re all movable pieces. Georgia will bring another quarterback to campus as soon as Fields leaves, more than likely.
NEWS: Finally, it is a fact that Smart has lost two 5-stars in the past 12 months, and you can’t deny that.
VIEWS: Yes, I acknowledge the fact itself, but that’s because he’s also remained loyal to Fromm. Eason left because of that loyalty, and now Fields will too. But why is that loyalty to a winning quarterback who’s a great team leader possibly a bad thing? I actually feel worse about Eason’s transfer, because he basically lost his job due to injury, and I don’t always think that’s fair. But I can’t really fault Smart — or Eason for that matter — for his transfer.
He went home and will play next year at Washington. Again, it all comes down to only having one football. Fields has options, and he could have stayed just as easily as he is leaving. To me, that’s not on Kirby. You may disagree with me that Fromm is a better quarterback than Fields. That’s your right. But to me, Smart has cast his lot with Fromm, and Fields can’t handle that. That’s more on Fields than Smart. Blame the kid, not the coach.