Calling Georgia football coach Kirby Smart, Richt 2.0, is flat-out laziness.
There have been a lot of narratives floating around Georgia football since Kirby Smart took over as head coach. One of those narratives is that Coach Smart is the second coming of Mark Richt. This is mostly meant as a derogatory remark as Coach Richt is known as someone that elevated Georgia football to new heights but plateaued before he was able to bring them a championship.
Now, this is true, Richt did improve the program, but he didn’t get them over the ultimate hump which was winning Georgia football a national championship. He did, however, win Georgia its first SEC title after being in a 20-year drought at the time. Richt would also win SEC East Divison titles in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011, and 2012 while only winning the SEC in 2002 and 2005.
Georgia football made it to eight New Year’s Day Bowls under Coach Richt. Georgia would go 6-2 in these bowl games. This gave Richt two SEC Titles and six Major Bowl wins in his 15 years at Georgia. For a program with National Championship aspirations, this just would not do. Especially since in Richt’s first five years he led Georgia football to three major bowls and won two of them.
Coach Richt led Georgia to five more major bowl games in the next ten years winning three of them.
Winning major bowl games had become a given for Georgia football and just wasn’t good enough anymore. Especially after losing in the SEC Championship in 2012 to Alabama in a game that would have seen Georgia face Notre Dame in the National Championship game. That was the mantra of Richt’s Dawgs. “Almost, but not quite”, he got the Bulldogs close, but could never close.
This is why comparing him to Smart seems so easy. Smart got Georgia football within a few plays of being able to claim their first National Championship since 1980, but it all slipped away as Tua Tagovailoa connected with Devonta Smith for the game-winning touchdown. Smart has now completed five years as Georgia’s head coach, so let’s compare Smart and Richt’s first five years.
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The two biggest differences between Smart and Richt are their records against top ten teams and their recruiting. Smart has played 15 games against top ten teams in his first five years winning nine of them. Richt played just seven games against top ten teams in his first five years and he won just four of them.
When it comes to recruiting it isn’t even a contest who is better. Over his first five years as head coach of Georgia football Coach Smart has averaged at least a top-three class. Over Richt’s first five years he averaged around a top 8 class. With Smart heading up recruiting Georgia has seen immense improvements on both the offensive and defensive lines when it comes to recruiting.
However, Smart’s record against top ten teams and his recruiting isn’t the only thing that separates him from Richt. Over Smart’s first five seasons as head coach, he has already led Georgia to five major bowl games and won three of them. He is only three major bowl games and three major bowl wins short of tying what Richt was able to do in his entire 15 years.
If you need any more evidence:
The argument can be made that Smart has gotten Georgia to the cusp just like Richt did, but there are more factors to it than that. Smart is a better recruiter and a better motivator than Richt was. The recruiting rankings and the record vs top ten teams, which is the best winning percentage against top ten teams since Vince Dooley, are proof of that.
Anyone that thinks that Smart is just another Richt that can’t get it done when it matters simply isn’t paying attention. Richt got 15 years to prove that he could get Georgia over the hump and he never did it. Vince Dooley needed 16 years to win his first National Championship with Georgia. It would take Nick Saban nine years at an FBS school before winning his first National Championship. It would also take Dabo Swinney seven years to win his first title.
So why are Georgia football fans being so impatient with Coach Smart in his first stop as a head coach? Does he not deserve to make his mistakes, learn from them as others have done, and, as long as his program shows improvement, continue to get support from the fans? It’s time to drop the Richt 2.0 label and it is time to start actually paying attention to what Coach Smart is doing for this program.
Coach Smart has done something for Georgia football’s program that no coach since Dooley has done, take them to a National Championship Game. As painful as it was that it didn’t go Georgia’s way there is no reason to thumb your nose up at the fact that it did happen and the man leading the charge was Coach Smart. He has earned the fans’ respect and it is time he got it, from each and every one of us.
It doesn’t matter if you have waited 40 years, like my generation, or ten years, there is no excuse for taking your frustration out on Coach Smart just because Ray Goff, Jim Donnan, and Coach Richt, failed to get the job done. Coach Smart is now in charge and he deserves our support as he does what is needed to bring home the trophy we all desire.
Coach Smart has shown that he is willing to dedicate the time, put in the work, and invest in the facilities needed to get this program to the mountain top. Just because it hasn’t happened overnight is no reason to give up on the vision he is trying to see fulfilled. If there is anyone in Georgia who is as dedicated as this fanbase is to seeing a National Championship brought home to Athens, it is Coach Smart.