Just a few days ago, the University of Georgia let go of their longtime coach Mark Richt. The coach at Georgia since 2000, Richt took over a program that was going through a lull and elevated them. He would go on to have a record of 145 wins and 51 losses over his career there. But the big knocks on Richt was he never could win the big game and he would lose games to teams that had no business beating Georgia. In his first decade there, many let that slide as he was winning games. But over the last five years, the pressure mounted on him to do better. The rumblings about him being released as the coach of the Bulldogs finally came to reality when both decided to part ways in November. Immediately, people began to talk about who the next head coach would be. Two names that were mentioned almost immediately were Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and Houston head coach Todd Herman. Well, it appears that Herman reached out and showed interest, but it was not clear how much interest was there with Georgia in him. As far as Smart, he finally gets a head coaching job. After not taking job after job that was thrown his way, the former University of Georgia football player and assistant coach is returning home. ESPN and multiple other sites are reporting that Smart will be taking over after the SEC title game. One of the last original coaching pieces in the Saban era at Alabama has decided to move on.
The effect on Alabama could be one that is felt as early as Saturday versus the Florida Gators. Smart is still the defensive coordinator of the Crimson Tide as of right now. But one has to wonder where his mind will be come Saturday. If he is focused, then this is not even an issue at all. And with Nick Saban there in the fold, it can be assumed that he will be dialed in for the game. But there is also the scenario that his mind could have checked into the Georgia job already. We have seen assistants go ahead and leave a university to take on the new job to avoid that possibility and we have seen some stay on through their team’s bowl game. And in both instances, we have seen mixed results. It should also be interesting to see how the Alabama defensive players come out in this one. Will they be a bag of mixed emotions because their coach is leaving? Probably not. But the hardest thing to do is try to put a gauge on how 18-22 year old young men will handle a situation like this. And as for Smart, it will also be interesting to see how he does with his foot essentially out the door.
As far as Georgia, Smart just landed in a hotbed for talent. The state of Georgia has provided some great football players all over the Southeast, so Smart won’t have to look far for players to play for him. Another positive things for him is the Bulldogs already play a defense that he is used to coaching. The 3-4 defense that he runs is predicated on getting pressure on quarterbacks and stopping the run. And with what he has at Georgia, he definitely has a good base to build from. One guy he won’t have is outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. The superathletic Floyd decided he was going to leave school after the ousting of Richt. But even with the loss of Floyd, there is still a cupboard full of talent for Smart to mold into what he wants. It should be interesting to see what moves he makes to the defense there. And it will be nice to see what he can do outside of Nick Saban’s shadow.
But with any positives, there are some negatives. The first one has to be the status of five-star quarterback Jacob Eason. The Washington area quarterback was coming cross country to play for Mark Richt and Georgia. But with Richt’s departure, the status of Eason is up in limbo. One school that has become a factor for him is the University of Florida. Eason is supposed to come to be an early enrollee at Georgia and if Smart is already thinking on his new job, he may want to begin the fullcourt press on Eason. If he loses him, then he will end up having the same crew of quarterbacks he had this year, which would not be good for the team. Either place Eason decides to go to will have a need for his services immediately. But Georgia honestly needs his talents more than Florida does.
Another issue that may arise is the lack of head coaching experience. Smart has never stepped into the head coaching seat before. And despite being on the staff of one of the elite coaches in college football, he still does not know what being a head coach means as of yet. What he will find out is it’s different being the man in charge than the guy behind the man in charge. Smart is the last line of defense in regards to the Georgia coaching staff and he is the now going to be the first one to take blame if the team does not play well. And what he also will see if that he not only has to focus on the defense, but be in charge of what kind of offense he puts out there as well. Considering where he came from, the players he has inherited (minus quarterbacks) fit to what Alabama does best: run the football. And assuredly he will hire a coordinator that fits that style.
Richt is out and they have replaced him with a big-name assistant coach with no wins to his name. Mark was not winning big games and the fans got restless. But replacing him with an assistant that has as many head coaching wins as I do is risky business. We shall see if it’s able to be worked or if Smart ends up over his head. Georgia is taking a chance here hiring him. But the last time they hired an assistant coach that had no head coaching experience, it did not turn out so bad. That hire was Mark Richt.