Kirby Smart may not be on the proverbial hot seat, but he’s under more pressure to win big than any coach in the nation right now.
41 long, agonizing, torturous, and viciously cruel years. That’s how long Georgia football fans have suffered and waited to yell at the top of their lungs, “How ’bout them Dawgs!” celebrating a national championship.
If you silently make your way through the hallowed passages and corridors of Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, that once-deafening battle cry has slowly been reduced to a whisper over the years.
Herschel seems like eons ago.
Head coach Kirby Smart is all too familiar with this, having played for Georgia in the final year of Ray Goff’s tenure as head coach — the coach who had the unfortunate task of following Vince Dooley — and during the first three years of the Jim Donnan era, the coach who was charged with the task of “fixing” what Goff was accused of breaking.
The teams Smart played for had a combined 30-17 record from 1995-1998, definitely not up to the standard that Georgia football fans expected from this program. He knows how Georgia fans and alumni react when this program falters.
He also knows how they react when the program succeeds. Like his predecessor, Mark Richt, Smart saw almost immediate improvement and success, winning the SEC in just his second year on the job, and advancing to the national championship game, only to be thwarted by mighty Alabama.
Those two words probably cause Kirby Smart to twitch uncontrollably.
It’s because of those two words that Smart only has one SEC title and zero national titles on his resume, having lost to Alabama in the 2018 SEC Championship game as well. It was also mighty Alabama that took the Bulldogs down a notch or two in 2020, sending the upstart Dawgs back to Athens with their tails tucked firmly between their legs.
Mighty Alabama. The program that Kirby Smart helped build into a modern dynasty, serving as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator for eight seasons. Smart acquired four pieces of gaudy jewelry during those eight seasons as Saban’s DC. He’s yet to decorate his hand with one heading into his sixth season at Georgia.
To say Kirby Smart is under a lot of pressure to do more than just win is an understatement.
While some coaches may have their jobs on the line this season, the pressure on them is simply to improve. Getting better is relatively easy for a quality coach. Getting a ring is a much more daunting task.
Other high-profile coaches might be under pressure to finally beat that rival school, or find their way into a conference title game. Don’t want to mention any names because calling out someone isn’t in good taste, but let’s just say it might rhyme with scarbow.
Georgia fans want more than a winning program. Iowa is a winning program. UCF is a winning program. Washington is a winning program.
Georgia fans don’t want to be mentioned in the same breath with programs that just finish over .500 and win bowl games. Georgia fans want a championship program.
Dabo Swinney inherited a hot mess at Clemson in 2008 and he’s turned them into the second-best program in the nation (behind – guess who? Yup, mighty Alabama), and he was only supposed to be the stop-gap solution, not “the guy”.
Why can’t Kirby Smart do that, or more importantly, why hasn’t Kirby Smart done that?
There are some who say, based on his recruiting record while at Georgia, that no coach has done less with more than Kirby Smart. It’s all in how you look at the glass. Half-full — five top 5 recruiting rankings including twice finishing at No. 1 — or half-full — the lack of hardware added to the Georgia trophy case with all that talent flowing through the program.
It all just means more pressure for Kirby Smart no matter which way you see the glass.
Smart has had multiple 5-star quarterbacks walk through the doors, and yet quarterback seems to be the area of vulnerability, the weak knee, the talking point of concern for anyone covering the team. A feather in Smart’s cap for luring all the talent to Athens, but mud on his face for what seems to be poor decisions in how they’re utilized.
JT Daniels looks to reverse that trend, and in theory, he already has.
Are Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs ready to become next-level great?
Despite Georgia losing a program-record nine players to the NFL Draft this season, the state of the program looks solid. The Athletic’s Seth Emerson says the time is now for Kirby Smart to get over the hump (subscription required), and he’s not wrong. Smart has everything in his toolbag to get the job done, he just needs to reach for the right tools at the right time.
It needs to happen. It has to happen. It’s been too damn long.
Several times a bridesmaid, never a bride since January 1, 1981.
The kings of “almost”
A John Lastinger interception spoiling the party in 1982. The inhuman BCS computers failing to give the Bulldogs a proper “eye test” in 2002 and 2007. A blown offside call against Tyler Simmons changing the face of the game in 2018.
The excuses don’t matter. Excuses fade. Champions live on.
Kirby Smart needs to produce a champion and he knows it. He’s not on the hot seat. His job isn’t being threatened, but he’s on a path to becoming yet another Mark Richt — the coach who everyone loves, no one wants to get rid of, but can’t coach the team to a win on the biggest stage.
No pressure, Kirby.