Kirby Smart shares Rose Bowl story defining the unselfishness of last season's Georgia team
Georgia took a gigantic step forward last year in Kirby Smart’s second season in Athens. While the Dawgs may have come up just short in the National Championship Game, Georgia captured the SEC title and appear poised to contend for several more titles in the coming years under Smart’s leadership.
The biggest obstacle for the program next year looks to be the loss of a tremendous senior class this offseason. Despite the losses, the Dawgs may have improved the roster’s overall talent thanks to the addition of the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class.
Based on what Smart had to say during a recent speech at the Anderson Area Touchdown Club in South Carolina, it’s not talent that the Georgia coach is worried about replacing, it’s the unselfishness of his 2017 team.
During his appearance, Smart shared his biggest takeaway from a recent Nike trip, hosted by Phil Knight and his apparel company, which featured several head coaches from Nike schools. Bulldawg Illustrated shared video of Smart’s speech on YouTube.
“One of the greatest things I got out of that trip, there was 15-16 other coaches — Dabo (Swinney) was there, got to spend time with Dabo. David Cutcliffe, who I have tremendous amount of respect for, pulled me to the side… I have a lot of respect for him. He pulled me aside and said, ‘You know, the No. 1 thing I loved about your team? No. 1 they had a bunch of seniors but No. 2, they were all unselfish.’ And in this day and age of sport, this day and age of media, this day and age of everything they want to show bad going on in the world, everything bad going on in sports, they don’t ever show the positive.”
Those comments from Cutcliffe got Smart thinking back to one of his favorite moments from Georgia’s epic Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff. No surprise, his story featured seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
“There’s a lot of positives for the Georgia Bulldogs this past year, a lot of positives,” Smart continued. “You see two guys that came to college together, played the same position, end up being roommates, best friends and cheering for each other.
“We had a situation in the Oklahoma game. It was a tight ballgame, I forget if we’d comeback and tied it up or maybe we’re down one touchdown — for all I know it was 100 to nothing because (Oklahoma) kept on scoring and scoring, I didn’t think we were ever going to stop them. But in the second half, Sony Michel, he gets popped right on the ball. Ball fumbles. Guy picks it up and returns for a touchdown. Nick comes up to me on the sideline and gets right in my ear and tells me, ‘Coach, put Sony in. I want him to touch it first.’
“Well it wasn’t really his turn to touch it, it was Nick’s turn to carry it, but Nick wanted Sony to go back in to prove we had confidence in him because we knew we weren’t going to win the game unless he got back in rhythm, he got his confidence back. Sure enough that next drive, we gave it to Nick first, but Sony came back and made the run that will define that game. The last run. It’s unselfishness like that I hope all you award winners, and I want to thank each and every one of you, I hope you embrace that unselfishness — because it’s so rare in our sport.”
That type of leadership will be tough for the Bulldogs to replace but considering how many seniors played in Athens last season, their displays of character and sacrifice likely rubbed off on the program’s younger players — especially given how much success the team achieved as a result of their actions. If Smart and get his next senior class to show similar resolve, there’s a good chance the Bulldogs will be back in Atlanta next season playing for the right to return to the Playoff for the second consecutive year.