Georgia took a calculated risk on Kirby Smart. Though the program was successful under Mark Richt, the future Hall of Fame coach fell short of the sports mountain peak. Despite his 145-51 record and two SEC crowns in 15 years, the Bulldogs had not won a league championship in a decade and never celebrated a national title. He watched LSU and Alabama reign supreme as the standard in SEC and college football.
Photo Cred: AL.com
Bridging the gap between the good and elite is incredibly difficult. Making New Year and BCS Bowl games was no longer good enough. Richt kept Georgia in the national discussion each season but could not summit the mountain. But now things have changed! After firing its known commodity in November 2015, Georgia hired a promising coach who had learned under Nick Saban. Smart was a logical choice. He knew the program and the SEC and watched how a legend worked. But there were no certainties about what Smart may or might not accomplish at his alma mater. Any number of hotshot candidates—and experienced Saban disciples have stumbled.
Photo Cred: USA Today
Seven years, one month, and three days later, the answer is undeniable: Georgia hired the most prolific coach in program history. Another year atop the college football world thanks to a 65-7 beatdown of TCU in the national championship game Monday night is why UGA rolled the dice on Smart. Since the start of the BCS era in 1998, four programs—Florida, Alabama, Clemson, and now Georgia—have earned multiple titles in four years. UGA joined Alabama as the only consecutive winners, and Smart became the first Bulldogs coach to win multiple national championships. He also has an SEC title and national runner-up finish in 2017. They won division crowns in 2018 and 2019 and six straight seasons as a Top 10 team.
Kirby Smart is the new king of college football. Since his first recruiting cycle in 2017, Georgia has owned a top-four ranking. Georgia has had 45 players drafted who played for or were recruited by head coach Kirby Smart over the past five draft cycles. Last year the Bulldogs set a new modern-era record with 15 players selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, a feat Smart himself admitted he didn’t think was possible. The modern era record dates to 1994, when the NFL moved to a seven-round draft.
Photo Cred: SBNation.com
Smart has his eyes set on next year already, “So starting to think about the next one, I do think it’s going to be much tougher,” Smart said. “And I do think we’re going to have to reinvent ourselves next year because you can’t just stay the same. Like these two guys up here, they’re coming back. And we have a lot of guys, in my opinion, that are going to come back and it’s easy to get comfortable. And comfortable does not win.”
Photo Cred: Georgia Public Broadcasting
Next year recruiting class and returning players are just as good as the championship teams. Longevity is the only element separating him from an unquestioned spot as Georgia’s all-time great. But the culture is set, and Alabama and Clemson seem to have taken a step back!