I previously offered my opinion on what I thought Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity should do when it came to the hiring process for the Bulldogs' new head coach. Instead, he did exactly what most thought he would do. He had one guy on his list — Kirby Smart — and that was it.
I had faith that McGarity would do his due diligence and seek out the best candidate available for a top-6 coaching job in college football but he didn’t. It turns out that he had his guy the whole time and didn’t feel the need to talk to anyone else. Even though he said he would use a search firm to help find a coach for a position that, as McGarity said in a press conference just days ago, was “wide open.”
Wide open? Not really.
And just what did that search firm help McGarity figure out? I’m still waiting on that answer.
Just like that, news spread that Georgia had found its new coach in Smart, defensive coordinator at Alabama. Smart, who has been a part of Nick Saban’s staff since 2007, has excelled as a defensive coordinator since taking over that role in '08. Smart is a Georgia alum, where he played defensive back from 1995-98. He has won multiple awards while at Alabama, including AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year in 2012 and the Broyles Award in 2009, which goes to the best assistant coach in college football.
Below, I give five reasons why you should hate/love the hiring of Kirby Smart if you are a Georgia fan. Buckle up, some of this truth might not feel good for you Dawg fans.
Why I Like the Hire
1. The Saban coaching tree bears fruit
Saban has had some great coaches under him during his tenure as a head coach. A lot of success that a head coach has depends on the quality of assistants that you retain on a staff. Saban has three guys in particular who have had a lot of success as head coaches. Jimbo Fisher served as offensive coordinator for Saban at LSU and already has won a national championship at Florida State and guided the Seminoles to the College Football Playoff last season. Fisher has done very well in Tallahassee given the fact that he had huge shoes to fill after Bobby Bowden stepped down. Mark Dantonio served as a defensive assistant under Saban while he was the head coach at Michigan State. Dantonio has won the Big Ten title twice since 2007 and is playing for another conference championship on Saturday, along with a spot in the Playoff. Former Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain left Saban in 2012 to become Colorado State's head coach. McElwain had two winning seasons in three years and was rewarded with the opportunity to take over at Florida where in his first year he led the Gators to an SEC East title.
2. This is Kirby Smart’s dream job
Dream job hires can go both ways but in the case of Smart “coming home” to Athens you get a guy that will do whatever is necessary in order to win. Smart played at Georgia so he knows the landscape in front of him. Smart can walk onto his back porch in Georgia and get any recruit he wants, which is a huge plus for a guy in his first head coaching stint. Smart will bring in every coach he can to help win at Georgia and will spare no expense. Smart has waited on this job for years. He won’t go down without a fight.
3. The cupboard is certainly not bare
Mark Richt leaves the Georgia program in better shape than any open position I can think of in recent years. There is plenty of talent still on the roster and loads of talent coming into Athens in the 2016 recruiting class, a top-five class last time I checked. The Bulldogs have only finished with less than eight wins in one season under Richt. Couple that with the fact that the SEC East is there for the taking and Smart is not only walking into a dream job, but almost a perfect scenario. Smart is young and has plenty of talented assistants to choose from. This Bulldog team will be in contention for the SEC East title once again next year.
4. The athletic department is all in
With news on Tuesday breaking that the new indoor facility in Athens is set to begin construction later this month, it’s clear that the athletic department wanted the new coach to have the best money could buy when it came to new facilities. The $30 million facility is the university's way of saying we are all in. This is the shiny new toy that every coach wants and Smart will have his. Spare no expense in Athens. This program knows it is top notch. And the decision makers will do whatever Smart says he needs in order to win. Remember, this was McGarity’s only choice. As long as Smart wins, he will get whatever he asks for.
5. Kirby Smart is patient
Smart has had his named linked to open jobs since 2010. With head coaching money at an all-time high, he patiently waited for what he thought was his best opportunity. Most of us would have taken the money and ran with it the second a halfway decent job opened up. But Smart didn’t do that. He bided his time and continued to learn under one of the best coaches in college football. Honestly, what better place to be if you are being groomed as a head coach than under Nick Saban? Smart’s patience will be tested at Georgia but if he continues to be patient, he will do well.
Why I Don’t Like the Hire
1. The Saban coaching tree has bad fruit too
Where there are hits like Jimbo Fisher, Mark Dantonio and Jim McElwain, there are the misses like Derek Dooley, Will Muschamp and Pat Shurmur. Dooley had a losing record at Louisiana Tech before going to Knoxville and setting Tennessee's program back even further. Muschamp had one year of success at Florida before losing to Georgia Southern and getting run out of Gainesville. Muschamp is now at Auburn where reviews are mixed on how he did as defensive coordinator this year. Rumors are he might get another chance as a head coach at South Carolina or as DC for Smart. Shurmur became a head coach in the NFL in 2011 for the Cleveland Browns but I don’t have to tell you how that ended. Shurmur has been the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia since 2013 and has had success, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at this year.
2. Kirby Smart has ZERO head coaching experience
This was and is my biggest concern for a guy that is about to take over such a great program like Georgia. Smart has followed Saban around for years as an assistant when he should have taken a job somewhere to see just what it’s like to be the man in charge. Going from the defensive coordinator to a head coach is difficult on its own. But jumping into a major college football program is even harder. Smart will have to hit home runs at offensive coordinator and also bring in and/or develop a reliable, productive quarterback if he is going to have success. Don’t believe me? Just ask Muschamp.
3. There is little room for error with what Richt left behind
So not only are you taking over an SEC East team that contends every year, in a state that ranks in the top four in producing college football talent, but you also replace a coach that averages nine wins a season. Couple that with a new OC/DC and probably a freshman quarterback. On top of that, two of your division rivals, Florida and Tennessee, look to be getting better and the East will no longer be a cakewalk. Bulldog fans are already split on the decision to fire Richt and the athletic director named you and only you as his successor. Richt took over a program that was nowhere near the shape it is in now and won an SEC title in year two. The heat is on.
Yes, I just quoted a Glenn Frey song. You're welcome.
4. Greg McGarity is counting on you to save his job
McGarity isn’t the most popular person in Athens right now. Not only did he just fire Richt but he tried to make it look like it was a mutual agreement to part ways. He also said that the decision to fire Richt came after the Georgia Tech game. So you want me and the rest of the fans to believe this decision wasn’t made after another bad Florida loss? We aren’t that dumb, Greg. Then he said he was going to use a search firm to help find the new coach when everyone knew he had one guy in mind. And instead of making it look like he at least contacted a few guys to gauge their interest in the job, he allows the information to come out that Georgia will hire Smart only days after announcing all of the above. Either you’re a total genius or a complete idiot when it comes to this hire. Either way, McGarity has added even more pressure on a first-year head coach.
5. The NFL might become a factor
The NFL is always looking at college coaches to fill open vacancies. One guy who knows the NFL better than anyone had this to say about Kirby Smart:
Riddick is pretty plugged in when it comes to knowing the NFL and this tweet says a lot. Three things can happen. One, Smart gets off to a great start in Athens and the NFL comes calling. And as a college coach, if the NFL comes calling, you at least entertain the call. Two, Smart excels at Georgia and cares nothing for the NFL and chooses to stay at Georgia for as long as he wants. Three, Smart completely bombs at Georgia and we are right back to square A, only this time Georgia will be coming off multiple losing seasons and will need a new AD as well. The odds don’t favor Georgia in this scenario. But option two still has a great chance of playing itself out. I don’t know Smart or his intent going forward. But I know how coaches think and the NFL is intriguing to the best of them.
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)