Meet Kirby Smart, the new Grim Reaper of SEC East coaches
On a given fall Saturday, one can find Kirby Smart donning his customary Bulldogs attire.
He wears a Georgia visor with his Georgia polo tucked into his khakis. It’s not necessarily fashion forward, but in an era where image is everything, it’s become the go-to look for the second-year coach.
Reality is that Smart can wear whatever he wants as long as his team keeps dominating SEC foes left and right. He could wear a full suit and tie and it’d be celebrated by the Georgia faithful. Smart is on such a roll right now that he could probably transition into the Bob Huggins sweat pants and windbreaker look — the West Virginia basketball coach has it figured out — and they’d both be flying off the shelves in Athens.
But for the time being, Smart may as well abandon any traditional clothing style. By the time SEC East coaches shake Smart’s hand after a blowout loss, they probably don’t see the visor, the polo or the khakis. They should see a football coach dressed in a hooded black robe who approaches them holding a scythe.
Whether they realize it or not, they’ve just come in contact with the Grim Reaper.
Jim McElwain met the Grim Reaper on Saturday after his team was embarrassed in Jacksonville. Though McElwain’s doom was determined by more than what the scoreboard read, it was Smart who made sure the Florida coach was put out of his misery.
It took Smart’s team for Florida’s brass to see the writing on the wall. The Gators were going in a completely opposite direction than their SEC East rivals.
Tennessee actually hosted the Grim Reaper a month earlier. It proceeded to light up the scoreboard, empty the stadium and ignite the calls for Butch Jones’ job. Like Florida, Tennessee was a team that hung on for dear life. Close, thrilling victories masked what many knew to be true. Jones, in Year 5, was light years behind Smart in Year 2.
After all, why can’t Florida or Tennessee be doing what Georgia is doing? They all have the resources to make that happen. Why is it that they can’t even stay on the field with the Dawgs?
Smart’s dominance through the SEC East — Georgia outscored division opponents 181-49 so far — was certainly a factor in the public perception of Jones and McElwain. Any Florida or Tennessee administrator who wants to deny that is welcome to do so, but they know the truth.
Smart is doing to the SEC East what Nick Saban did to the SEC West.
That means the leashes are shorter and the bar is higher for the East. Finally, there’s someone in the division who’s capable of exposing all of a team’s weaknesses and showing them just how far they are from Playoff contention. That’s a tough pill to swallow for Florida, Tennessee or even Missouri, which had its own run of success in the East not too long ago.
As Smart can probably attest to, Saban’s success at Alabama was certainly a factor in Auburn firing Gene Chizik and LSU firing Les Miles. The Tide’s rise under Saban also played a part in burning out Urban Meyer at Florida. An inability to live up to Saban’s pace could ultimately cost Kevin Sumlin and Gus Malzahn their jobs, too.
The question now is how many East programs will fire their coach because they can’t keep pace with Georgia. Vanderbilt and Kentucky aren’t held to that standard. Will the same be true for Will Muschamp at South Carolina in a few years? Perhaps we’ll be able to gauge the reactions of Gamecocks fans if and when Georgia rolls this Saturday.
What seems clear is that whoever Florida’s next coach is (and likely Tennessee’s) will have a clear expectation — compete with Georgia year in, year out or they’ll find someone else who can.
It’s amazing to think we’ve arrived to that point so quickly in Smart’s tenure. It wasn’t long ago that he was another first-year coach who seemed destined to be stuck at the 8-9 win plateau. Now, his Year 2 is mirroring Saban’s, when he had a 12-0 regular season in 2008.
Four of the 12 teams that Alabama beat that year — Auburn, Clemson, Mississippi State and Tennessee — hired new coaches the following season. By the way, Saban outscored those four teams 131-26 in 2008.
Smart, on the other hand, outscored Florida and Tennessee 83-7. Both programs, you can bet, will pay big bucks for someone to come in and make sure that doesn’t happen again.
And if they can’t, they’ll be staring at reality. Death won’t show up in a hooded black robe holding a scythe.
It’ll wear a Georgia visor and khakis.