What does Kirby Smart's massive raise mean? Georgia expects to contend for national titles ... annually
Kirby Smart now has 49 million reasons to build a monster in Athens.
That realization officially hit home Thursday when the Georgia coach’s new deal was announced. A reported 7 years for $49 million means that the only coaches in college football who will make more than Smart are Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher and Jim Harbaugh, while Gus Malzahn recently signed approximately the same 7-year deal.
That’s pretty elite company for a guy with 2 years of head coaching experience, only one of which yielded a winning conference record. Obviously the move didn’t come as a surprise. Smart made $3,753,600 last year, which made him the 23rd-highest paid coach in America. Of course that wasn’t enough for a coach who pulled off what Smart did the past 7 months.
That is, win the SEC, go to a national title game and sign one of the top-rated recruiting classes of the 247sports era.
Those are the obvious reasons Smart had a meteoric rise into this elite stratosphere of college coaches. It took guys like Swinney and even Saban years of highs and lows to reach that exclusive club. Reaching a national championship game at a place like Georgia expedited Smart’s rise to the big boys of the coaching world after Year 2.
What does that mean for him? The honeymoon is officially over.
Some would argue that Smart’s honeymoon at Georgia was over the second the national championship game ended and the calendar turned to 2018. He brought the Dawgs to a place they hadn’t been in nearly four decades, and that alone was going to raise the bar sky high, with or without the No. 1 recruiting class.
But nearly doubling a coach’s salary says more about expectations than what any fan call-in show can. It’s far more symbolic than a typical extension that the elite coaches get just to keep up with the times.
Smart’s deal has a simple underlying message — you have everything you need to be happy competing for national titles here.
Georgia’s 2017 narrative will never play out again while Smart is there. It’ll never be viewed as the “revived college football power.” You want a feel-good story? Go watch a Group of 5 team try and get into the Playoff. The Dawgs are nobody’s feel-good story anymore. They’re a force that means business.
For Smart, this massive raise won’t change him the way it might for others. As far as I was concerned, he coached the 2017 season like he was making $7 million with national title expectations. That’s why he blew a gasket at Jake Fromm for not getting a first down in the third quarter of a blowout win at Vanderbilt. That’s why he won recruiting battles that he was ruled out of months earlier.
Even if money or the desire to get that big contract never fueled Smart’s never-ending motor, it was clear that he saw the new bar that he could set for the program. Anyone who has been around Smart would tell you that he’s the same guy he was when he was making $8,000 as the defensive backs coach at Valdosta State (per Darren Rovell, Smart will now make just north of $19,000 per DAY with this new deal). Smart is still the guy who, after a big-time win, wants to do nothing more than get Waffle House takeout and relax with his family.
Smart could probably buy a whole lot of Waffle Houses now.
The $49 million that Smart is in line to make over the course of this new deal is really just a starter. If he stays in the class of Saban, Meyer and Swinney and compete for titles the next few years, he’ll continue to get raises just like they probably will. If he doesn’t and Georgia reverts to the pre-2017 version of itself, suddenly a whole lot of people in Athens will start breaking down those buyout numbers.
That’s how it works for big-time coaches. Based on this new deal, that’s exactly what Smart is. Experience doesn’t matter when you’re making that kind of money.
Maybe that will ruffle some feathers in the coaching community. Smart didn’t have to spend 7 years building his program up to get it to a championship level like Swinney did at Clemson. Smart didn’t have to prove himself as a mid-major head coach like Malzahn, Meyer or Saban. Smart didn’t need to have the name recognition or NFL background of Harbaugh, either.
All Smart did was walk into Athens like he owned the place. Within 2 years of his first head coaching gig, it’s safe to say that Smart can walk the walk.
Now, we get to see if Georgia’s investment was a wise one. Smart has the ability to — like Meyer, Saban and Swinney — become both the school’s largest investment and its most lucrative one. If Smart brings titles to Athens, they’ll basically hand him a blank check. If he doesn’t, they’ll ask him if he’s worth that kind of money.
Money talks, and the money that Smart will be making says a lot about his place in college football. The honeymoon phase is officially over.
In case there weren’t enough reasons before, there are now 49 million reasons Georgia’s national force phase has commenced.