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Georgia Football

A Look at Georgia Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart's Use of the Transfer Portal

May 2, 2023

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ATHENS - Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs now begin the long wait until the 2023 season kicks off with the September 2 opener against UT-Martin

With G Day in the rear view mirror both coaches and fans alike are looking forward to what the roster consists of for the 2023 squad. With 11 players from the 2022 squad in the portal currently and potentially more on the way, Kirby Smart seems to be using the portal, strategically, for the benefit of his program as well as his players.

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Specifically, I’m using “benefit the program” in the case of Bear Alexander, who announced his intent to transfer on G Day. More on that later….but, Alexander’s departure definitely creates a very physical hole in the defensive line. His development was deemed critical to finding a replacement for Jalen Carter. However, it appears (unconfirmed rumors) Alexander’s behavior ran counter to the program’s well-known standards and expectations, making his mutually agreed upon decision to transfer a fait accompli`. While Alexander’s transfer leaves a hole on the defensive line, his leaving may become addition by subtraction. The potential distraction his purported behavior may have caused could not be outweighed by his raw talent. The message being sent by Kirby is simply there is no player is bigger than the team. If Alexander’s mercurial behavior was allowed to continue, whatever came out of Kirby’s mouth regarding a team-first approach would have fallen on deaf ears. 

Kirby’s very diplomatic response to Alexander’s transfer is telling. Here’s a quote from Kirby just after G Day, weighing in on it:

“You know, that’s the way of the world. It’s who handles it and manages it best. It’s a new climate we’re in. The window will open and all across the country there will be guys going in and looking for greener pastures. It’s ultimately the climate we created and more power to them. We’ve got a lot of guys who have benefited from the portal and I hope we benefit from the portal.”

So, first things first. Kirby showed great class by not assailing Alexander’s character, citing greener pastures as the reasoning behind the transfer decision. Second, Kirby has fully accepted the transfer portal as a condition in which all college football exists without railing against it. He has used the portal to bring in players to fill needed roles and has also enabled his players to enter the portal for better opportunities. This shows his unique ability to use a condition for the benefit of both his program as well as individual players. He’s never stood in the way of a player leaving regardless of his school of choice. That sends a message to his current players as well as others who may consider a transfer to UGA – that Kirby will always do what is necessary for the success of his program but will also ensure that players leaving are treated with respect and are supported. In a sometimes petulant college football world, Kirby’s approach is a breath of fresh air. 

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Juxtaposed to Kirby’s quote above is the seemingly immature approach Alexander took in announcing his decision to transfer on G Day. It’s easy to fault the player. However, it’s truly an exercise in futility to do so. 19- and 20-year-old young men don’t possess fully formed brains (look it up, it’s a scientific fact). Alexander is a young, impressionable kid who didn’t get his way in Athens. I believe the adults that surround him failed here in helping shepherd the young man in his decision and response to the situation in which he found himself. Not a fit at UGA? Fine, go somewhere else but have a modicum of class while doing it. 

Other programs across the country use the portal to build the roster due to recruiting failures or defections of current players to other programs. Greener pastures? Kirby uses the portal as sparingly as any coach in the nation for bringing players into the program. His approach to player development and evaluation, regardless of class, ensures his players have zero doubt where they stand on the depth chart which helps inform their decision on whether to stay or go. While other programs seem to be reactive to the portal, Kirby strategically uses it to ensure he can field the best roster possible year in and year out. Not only best in talent, but best in connection and accountability. Kirby’s coaching, recruiting, and roster development have created a program that is a menace to the rest of college football. Using all available tools and leaving nothing to chance simply shows Kirby is playing chess while all others are playing checkers. 

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