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Georgia Football

Georgia Bulldogs, Kirby Smart's Fight with Alabama, Nick Saban Seems Set to Continue

April 6, 2023

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ATHENS - If the Georgia Bulldogs‘ back-to-back national championships didn’t indicate a change in who is at the forefront of college football it should have at least signaled that Alabama was no longer alone in their mostly-annual domination of fall college landscape. 

Much has been made of how Nick Saban changed how perennial powerhouse programs are run and what long term success can look like. While one-and-dones will still make their way to the pinnacle of college football, the programs with the greatest chance of staying power are the ones with the best coaches, players, and deepest bank accounts.

So, pushing the also-rans aside for now, let’s look at the two programs that are on top of the Southeastern Conference. Georgia’s rise to prominence under Kirby Smart cannot be denied, regardless of what jealous opposing fanbases may say. Going into his eighth season as the lead Dawg, Kirby sports an overall record of 81-15, two national championships, two SEC championships, and an appearance in New Year’s 6 bowls in 6 of his first seven years. Pretty impressive, right?

And although we all know this, Georgia is Kirby’s first head coaching gig at ANY level. Nick Saban has an overall 280-69-1 college record at four different schools (Toledo, Michigan State, LSU, and Alabama. Looking at his record since Kirby came to Georgia, though, that record is 89-9. Still pretty good, right? He’s also won two national championships, four SEC championships, and appeared in New Year’s 6 bowls in 6 of those 7 seasons without Kirby. Just looking at the records it appears these coaches are incredibly similar, with the slight edge to Saban in the overall record and SEC championships. So, why does it feel like Saban is no longer residing on his normal “king of college football” perch? 

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Recency bias may have something to do with that. Two consecutive championships will do that for you. Georgia recruits as well as Alabama and seems to have less roster fluidity. Player development is either on par or better than the Tide, especially in recent years. All that aside I think the true reason lies in program attitude. Looking at recent comments from both head coaches about the SEC’s prospective scheduling model brings attitude to the forefront.

Nick Saban to Sports Illustrated: “I’ve always been an advocate for playing more [conference] games. But if you play more games, I think you have to get the three fixed [opponents] right. They’re giving us Tennessee, Auburn, and LSU. I don’t know how they come to that [decision].”

Whew. And while it’s not out of the norm for Saban to complain about something (usually meaning less control or competitive advantage for him) this feels like a full scale cry for help. If you are the undisputed king constant whining isn’t becoming. Now let’s compare Saban’s comments to Kirby below.





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Kirby Smart at the Macon TD Club: “I have no thoughts on my permanent opponents. It’s not my job to pick them. I’m not going to whine and cry. I’ll take whoever they give us and try to beat them. I think that’s the best way to handle it. Just let me know who we’ve got, and I’ll just spend my time trying to get the best players and let y’all figure out who we play.”

The difference in attitude is striking. One seems to be sulking while the other seems to say “bring it”. It’s foolish to believe that Saban and Alabama won’t be in the playoff picture in the near future, especially with the changes to the playoff format coming in 2024. As long as he is at Alabama, they will have a chance to compete for titles more often than not.

Attitudes are pervasive and you can believe that his words to the public also resonate inside the Tide football facility. If you contrast Saban’s words with Kirby’s the difference is clear. Attitude won’t necessarily win you games, but you can certainly lose them. While it’s not time to shovel dirt on Saban’s grave, his words are signaling his grip on college football and the SEC is slipping. And with his “bring it” attitude, Kirby Smart is actively wresting that supremacy from Tuscaloosa to Athens. While a three-peat may or may not happen the attitude that exists inside the Butts-Mehre facility ensures Georgia will continue to solidify its ascension to the top of the college football world.


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