The Georgia football program is being built in Kirby Smart’s way, not Nick Saban’s.
The Georgia football program has been on the upswing since Kirby Smart took over in 2016. And while he spent over a decade learning a lot from Alabama head coach Nick Saban, he’s not trying to duplicate what his former mentor has done in Tuscaloosa.
A recent article was published basically asserting that Kirby Smart has built the Georgia football program in the image of Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. While that’s an easy path to take, and certainly won’t meet much resistance from the masses in T-Town, there’s more to what Smart has done than just copying Alabama.
Smart’s approach has been much more than “Hey, I worked for Nick Saban, so I can just do what he does and win games”. It’s been a change in culture, and that culture is vastly different than the one Saban has developed in Alabama.
Kirby Smart was a Bulldog before he was with Saban.
Smart was born in the state of Georgia and played at the University of Georgia. He was a part of Georgia football long before he ever joined Nick Saban’s coaching staff. Smart bleeds red and black.
Smart played in 44 games at Georgia amassing 13 interceptions, including one off of Peyton Manning in 1997.
He is a legend in Athens, and always will be, regardless of where his coaching path may have begun or where it ends.
Kirby Smart has always been a better recruiter.
When it comes to recruiting, Saban didn’t have a No. 1 recruiting class without Smart on his staff and has only had three since he left. In the last five recruiting cycles, Saban has three No. 1 classes and Smart has two. If you look at Rivals.com that number flips to three for Smart and two for Saban.
When Saban was the head coach at LSU, he had the No. 21, No. 2, No. 21, No. 3, and No. 4 overall recruiting classes. Saban did have back to back top five classes in 2003 and 2004, but Smart joined Saban in LSU in 2004 as his defensive backs coach. The argument could be made that it was Smart who taught Saban how to recruit consistently, and not the famed traditions at Alabama.
Kirby Smart let’s the best player play.
There is a popular narrative that Smart lied to quarterback Justin Fields about being handed the starting job if he came to Georgia. That was never true. Fields was told that there would be an open competition and there was. The reason that Fields didn’t win the job is because Smart wanted him to work on reading defenses pre-snap.
Jake Fromm was a master at reading defenses and making the correct check at the line of scrimmage. Smart wanted a quarterback that would take care of the ball and could make checks at the line. That was where Fromm excelled. In 2018 Pro Football Focus gave Fromm a passing grade of 85.3. They gave Fields a passing grade of 82.8. Smart made the right decision.
Kirby Smart knows that a recruit’s No. 1 goal is getting to the NFL.
Georgia football has sent 21 former players to the NFL since Kirby Smart has become the head coach. Ultimately this is the goal of every player that steps foot on a college campus. That is not to say that they don’t want to win a championship, but that is a secondary goal on the way to their main one of becoming a professional football player.
Georgia has a number of players eligible for the NFL Draft in 2021. Two of those players, Jordan Davis and Tyson Campbell, are listed in Dane Brugler’s top 50 players that are draft eligible.
Kirby Smart knows that facilities matter.
There are a lot of college football programs that now have extravagant light shows. However, Georgia was the first. They debuted the new addition to Sanford Stadium against Notre Dame almost a year ago.
Georgia has also improved its locker room and weight room since Smart came on board. This is something all programs do from time to time. To attribute that to Saban or Alabama is shortsighted, to say the least. Was it Saban and Alabama that influenced LSU to recently upgrade its locker room?
This idea that anyone that improves their program is doing it to be like Alabama is ridiculous. Every head coach’s goal is to win championships. You can’t do that without getting the kids on campus. As the saying goes “it’s not about X’s and O’s, it’s about the Joes.” The way you get kids on campus is by having the facilities needed to grow them into a player that can go to the next level.
The bottom line is, Smart was born to run a program. His football IQ and ability to recruit show you that. He was born to be a leader. He didn’t have to follow in anyone’s footsteps. He was given an opportunity to run his alma mater’s football program and he has run with it. He isn’t looking to copy anyone. He has put his stamp on Georgia football.