I’m old enough to remember when Nick Saban became the first $4 million man in college football. It was back in 2007, well before network TV contracts were the end-all, be-all that they are today. It was also well before any notion of revenue-sharing seemed possible, much less imminent.

I’d love to go back and tell the 2007 version of myself that 17 years later, that once-absurd figure would more than triple. Even better, it would be because a position coach on Saban’s staff would be running the sport.

On Thursday, Georgia announced that Kirby Smart received a new 10-year, $130 million deal that would make him the first $13 million man. Why? Because $10.75 million annually just wasn’t enough for Smart.

I know that might’ve come off a bit sarcastic, but I believe it. He’s worth it, and then some. If Georgia announced that Smart was set to make $20 million annually, I’d nod in approval.

At a time when the narrative surrounding college coaches is that the job is more impossible than ever, taking care of Smart by any means necessary should continue to be Georgia’s primary focus. Nobody knows how long he’ll want to do this, especially if there aren’t significant changes to the structure of the sport with NIL/transfer portal/year-round recruiting calendar issues. Without that happening, Smart coaching as long as Saban feels unlikely after the immortal Alabama coach finally reached his limit at age 72.

The worst scenario for Georgia would be Smart walking away from the sport in his early 50s, a la Urban Meyer. Granted, Meyer won 3 rings and was still never going to catch Saban. Maybe Smart will indeed make a run at 7 rings. Only he can determine how much that motivates him. Only Georgia can determine how much it compensates him.

And let’s be clear, SEC Championship loss or not, Smart is still running the sport.

The man has as many losses in the last 3 seasons (2) as he has titles (2). Both of those were at the hands of the greatest coach of all time in a place that he hasn’t lost in since Meyer’s Florida squad took care of Alabama in the 2008 SEC Championship.

Smart is trying to become the third coach in the last 70 years to win a third title in 4 years. Saban and Tom Osborne are the only 2 who can claim that feat. Smart will likely lead the preseason No. 1 team in America and the national championship favorite after 3 consecutive 12-0 starts.

That $13 million/year salary is money well spent even if UGA doesn’t do what Saban did in the 2010s. And well, I suppose I should include what Saban did in the 2020s because the Tide took home 3 of the 4 SEC titles in the decade so far.

Smart’s increased compensation acknowledges that maintaining this pace is not for the faint of heart. There’s significantly more work that goes into this now as opposed to when Bear Bryant could take 6-8 weeks to travel to California to golf with USC coach John McKay. Smart’s wife wanted to go to the Amalfi Coast, but he opted to be a travel baseball dad in Southaven, Mississippi for a weekend.

But let’s say that we do get some regulation on the hot-button issues in the sport and Smart can, hypothetically, leave the country without feeling like he’s failing at his job. It’s still never been more lucrative to be an elite coach. Playoff money and exposure to standalone games will take on new life. Hosting a Playoff game is now on the table, which only adds to the incentive of being a relevant team.

Georgia, as long as Smart is there, is more than just relevant. Smart would’ve led UGA to the 12-team Playoff in each of the last 7 seasons. He’s the only coach with 7 consecutive top-7 finishes in the AP Poll. So in theory, UGA could’ve gone into mid-December with national championship hopes in each season for the better part of a decade.

There wouldn’t be a more feared team in that setting. At least there shouldn’t be. It’s not just that ever since the Texas dud in the Sugar Bowl, Smart is 7-0 in the postseason. It’s that the only person with any sort of leg up on him is gone. Here’s the list of active coaches who beat Smart since the start of the 2017 season:

  • Gus Malzahn
  • Tom Herman

Also of note, both of those coaches were fired from the places where they beat Smart. The same is true of Dan Mullen and Will Muschamp, both of whom are currently out of coaching.

You get this. If that came up in Smart’s contract “negotiations,” nobody would be surprised. I’m not sure how super-agent Jimmy Sexton makes his pitches, but his client in Athens — and the people on the other end of the table — made that a relatively painless process.

Georgia has made sure that money will never be the reason that Smart stops coaching. Good. It shouldn’t be. There’s no world in which he should ever hit the open market and go to the highest bidder. Smart earned his generational wealth. Georgia is now what it was desperate to become in the late days of Mark Richt. Smart isn’t at this place without the efforts of Richt, but the side-by-side breakdowns we all saw at the beginning of the decade are in the rearview mirror.

Nobody compares to Smart in college football. Period. Georgia’s ability to recognize that could be an all-important reason why Smart leads the team of the 2020s.