Georgia was successful under Mark Richt – very successful. Now it’s up to Kirby Smart to make the Bulldogs a consistent champion.
It’s not that Kirby Smart isn’t a nice guy, and it’s not that he isn’t going to be likeable among the Georgia fans, but this is the business-time head coach. This is the win-or-bust guy.
No one at Georgia really wanted to see Mark Richt go. Check that – no one at Georgia didn’t want to see Mark Richt succeed or was all fired up when he didn’t.
Before Richt arrived in 2001, Georgia was 8-4 okay, but it was getting its butt kicked by Florida on a regular basis and seemed miles away from winning an SEC championship.
Richt got it done in Year Three.
Richt won two SEC championships, six SEC East titles – or at least pieces of them – was 9-5 in bowl games and would’ve been 10-5 if he was around at the end of last year, sent off a bajillion players to the pros, and did it all with the attitude, looks, and personality everyone wants out of their high-level head coach. But he didn’t win the national title, and even though the East has been relatively down over the last few years, he didn’t get back to the SEC championship after almost pulling out a title in 2012.
But as far as college football divorces go, this one was as amicable as possible with all sides getting a win. Richt more than just landed on his feet with the Miami job, and Georgia got the superstar head coaching prospect who probably would’ve taken over the Alabama gig if Nick Saban chose to do something else with his life.
Now Smart walks into a no-honeymoon, high-expectation situation with a fan base – over 92,000 strong for the spring game – that will demand nothing less than Alabama in Athens. That’s the attitude now at Georgia.
It’s not fair to say that Richt’s nice guy persona wasn’t quite cut out for the SEC world – you don’t get the players he did and win like he was able to without being a killer – but Smart appears ready to play the game a little bit better. If he’s ramping up the intensity, and if he’s cranking up the pressure, and if he’s far more of a demanding task-master, at least early on, then good. Georgia needed the change, and because of it, what Richt was able to build up could go into hyperdrive.
Smart ripped it up on the recruiting trail from the moment he got the gig. Future NFL starting quarterback Jacob Eason could’ve easily followed Richt to Miami, or gone anywhere else, but Smart kept him. He then went and got star prospect after star prospect, showing that, at the very least, bringing in the talent wasn’t going to be a problem.
And now comes the hard part of being the one who has to be the Point B guy. Georgia would be one of the favorites to win the East if Richt was still around, and unlike Charlie Strong taking over at Texas or Jim Harbaugh stepping in at Michigan, no one’s going to suggest that the program needs a gut job or could need a few years to start doing things correctly.
But if you’re going to be the alpha dawg type who wants to live life as an SEC head coach, you’re also going to walk into the Georgia situation thinking you can do some really, really big things right away.
Eason makes a good quarterback situation fantastic. Nick Chubb is coming off a knee injury, but Sony Michel and other backs are in place until he does. The receiving corps is young and talented, and while the O line is a slight concern, it’s not glaring.
The defense needs to replace several key parts of the front seven, but Smart is a defensive coach by nature and has enough pieces to work with to keep it from being a major issue. The secondary is strong, the young base of all-around talent is excellent, and there isn’t anything to keep this team from taking the SEC East title right away.
That’s why Georgia needed a change, and it’s way overdue to get over the hump and be in the national championship discussion again.
By the way, Miami will probably win the ACC Coastal this year.