What Separates Kirby From Other UGA Coaches? Not a Title... Yet

May 4, 2020

ATHENS - Nearly five full years into his time as UGA coach, Kirby Smart has established the Dawgs as one of the best programs in the country. 

Georgia has won the SEC East three times in four years. And UGA has won the SEC, the Rose Bowl Game and the Sugar Bowl over the last three seasons. That’s not a bad start for a coaching tenure anywhere let alone at UGA. 

Before the 2019 season started critics jumped in with comparisons of Kirby Smart to Mark Richt (as if Richt was some sort of failure as head coach of the Dawgs). Critics often have points, and there have been similarities. The two coaches started off with 8-win seasons in year one - both with learning-moment losses in that first year. Year two saw both of them win the SEC and a major bowl game. Year three was a slight step back from year two, but both ended the season with top ten finishes. Then came what happened after year four - and that’s been the biggest difference between Kirby and Mark.

What I’m going to say next will likely stun you: Having watched Kirby up close over the last four years I have learned that he is not like Mark Richt very much. Kirby is always high energy. Mark was more steady and calm. Kirby was ready to fire someone, or move them out of the way. Mark was not. Mark’s best effort didn’t result in a national title. We will see if that’s the case with young Kirby. 

Kirby watched Georgia closely from his perch in Tuscaloosa for nearly a decade. He knew what needed to be done, and for the most part he has done it. But his departure from Alabama, alone, has been tough for the Tide. 

To be clear, Georgia’s gain has been Alabama’s loss in nearly every way with the Kirby-to-UGA move. The Tide won three of the previous five national titles in Kirby’s final five seasons in T Town. Alabama has won one national title in the four years since Kirby left… with Kirby and the Dawgs taking that loss with the usual mix of pain and agony that only being a Georgia program lost in the desert for 40 years can achive. 

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And that one thing, the national title, is going to be the only thing that separates Kirby Smart from great coaches like Richt. Mark came close a slew of times. And don’t confuse yourself - Mark Richt was a great coach. He was much better than good. 

But Kirby is knocking on the door of being elite. He has come as close as anyone to being that and and not winning it all. It is hard to say you are elite if you’ve not finished the job. 

The reason Kirby was hired to replace Mark was and is to win it all. It is that simple. UGA’s program is better under Kirby, and the powers that be have moved a lot of parts to get Kirby to that point. Kirby, frankly, deserves the Lion's share of credit for that to be sure. He is the one who has worked, schemed and outwitted folks along the way. And with everything that Kirby has accomplished comes with an expectation to not just beat the Gators and Auburn, or to keep Tennessee and Tech in their place (although those are always fun).

The expectation is to end the championship drought in Athens. It is long overdue, and Kirby is now the person in prime position to do just that. Will it happen this season? Probably not, but who is really poised to win it all in 2020?

Clemson? Ohio State? Alabama? The Gators? LSU? It “probably” won’t happen for any of those teams either. No one has odds that are in the “probably” category right now. There is no 2000 Miami Hurricane team in college football right now.

Georgia’s defense, which was the best in the nation a year ago, and will probably be better in 2020, can stop any of those teams for long enough to give a functional offense (which UGA only had in small stretches in 2019) more than a chance to win any of those games. 

This program is going lean on its defense at the start of the year, and probably for most of the year. It remains to be seen if a defense can lead a team to the national title in a world where Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and other point scorers are the stars. Still, college football is always changing. 

If winning it all any time soon depends on a defense that means Kirby’s Dawgs are going to be in the best position to win it all. No pressure. 

Tags: Kirby Smart
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