“It took a lot to get here. “
It’s a thought that occasionally comes to my mind in a variety of contexts, in my most contemplative moments. There is so much that has had to happen for each of us to end up where we are in our lives, individually and in relation to each other, for better or for worse.
But it occurred to me this morning when it comes to Georgia Bulldog football in particular. Let’s take stock of the current latitude and longitude of this program in the college football firmament.
- The Rouge et Noir are 10-0 and a prohibitive favorite to win not only their last two regular-season games, but also in a head-to-head clash with all other college football playoff contenders.
- Kirby Smart has the top-ranked recruiting class for 2022 with less than a month until signing day, and may have up to 6 additional top 100 national recruits to add. It is in the top class for 2023 by some estimates.
- Our biggest rivals are on the whole in a state of utter disarray with the program, having lost faith in their culture-changing coach, started worrying about the end of the game for their seventy-year-old head coach, or the guy that everyone told them was a failure from day one.
And we’re here because Greg McGarity and the rest of the UGA Athletics 2015 Brain Trust have made the decision to part ways with the most winning coach Georgia has ever had in percentage, a guy three years old to play for one. SEC (and very almost national title). To hire a 39 year old UGA / former career assistant coach.
At the time, at Dawg Sports, we were among the skeptics.
Greg McGarity fired Mark Richt because of FOMO vs. Kirby Smart, and it’s the decision that will define him.
– Didn’t blow Mike Leach a 28-3 lead (@dawgsports) November 30, 2015
This FOMO remark of course referred to widespread rumors that Ray Tanner in South Carolina had his eye on Smart to replace Steve Spurrier. A lot of people didn’t know until today how close he was to having his man.
We had a blast with Mary Beth Smart and Russ Tanner in the studio with Dave and Logan on The Morning Show this morning
Check out this gold on demand radio on our website or free mobile app. pic.twitter.com/aGX8x1jv9A
– 960 La Ref (@ 960theref) November 19, 2021
Mary Beth Smart obviously puts it better than I do, but in short, Kirby and Mary Beth Smart were meeting with South Carolina officials on Sunday morning when it was announced that Georgia would be exiting the Mark Richt era. I was thinking about all of this before this radio appearance. But hearing about it prompted me to turn to the keyboard to consider the events of six years ago for your consideration rather than my own.
I’ve told this story to a few people privately, but I’m not sure I’ve told it here yet. In 2014, when Georgia looked to replace Todd Grantham as defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart was the main target, with talks on the then-de rigueur “coach waiting” tag. promises to match whatever Alabama was willing to pay, anything to bring America’s most prominent assistant coach back to Athens. Kirby Smart wanted to train in Georgia. It is always wanted to train in Georgia. And at that point, the people I spoke to in the UGA Sports Department and the UGA-era Smarts Circle of Friends felt he was about to do. At least one person working inside Butts-Mehre told me emphatically, “We have our guy. “
Then things changed. An apocryphal account maintains that Smart went so far as to tell Nick Saban he was going home, only for Saban to dissuade him by asking him why he would want to go to Athens and get fired with the rest of the Bulldog staff. . when he could wait a while and go back to being the head coach replacing Richt. I can’t verify it, and neither Smart nor Saban ever would.
But there is little reason to doubt that if Kirby Smart had come to Athens in 2014 instead of Jeremy Pruitt, he actually wouldn’t have been the hot trainer he was in 2015. If Greg McGarity hadn’t. hadn’t given in to the pressure of the elders and boosters who were on the verge of rioting if he let Smart get away, the Top ‘Dawg could have become the Top’ Cock. Did Smart leave the ship at Columbia at some point to return home?
May be. Of course, there’s no guarantee he would have done that in time to coach the Bulldogs in a 2017 season that served as a proof of concept as Smart approached. But how many Bulldogs he recruited from Athens would never have ended up here? Could Jordan Davis be the centerpiece of Mack Brown’s defense in North Carolina? Would Chubb, Michel and Carter and so many others have stayed for one more race in a special season if 2016 had been Richt’s last year instead of Smart’s premiere?
In some ways, Kirby Smart’s rise to the top of Georgia Bulldog football has been inevitable since studying his playbook in the SAE house in Athens, leaning into cover calls while everyone else’s. carelessly amused, only college kids without mortgages, car payments and sore knees can. And after spending nearly a decade as an award-winning student of Nick Saban, it was also highly likely that when he got his own agenda, he would recruit fiercely, relentlessly prepare, and focus on the building process. ‘a football powerhouse from scratch.
But the specific way in which things merged could never have been predicted. And everything could have gone wrong, or at least not as well as it did.
What if McGarity had decided that Mark Richt had won at least a year more?
What if Ray Tanner and South Carolina had moved up their coach search schedule a few days?
What if McGarity had given in to her alleged fondness for her former University of Florida colleague and gone to the mat for her former colleague. . . .Dan Mullen?
What if boosters or administrators in Georgia balked at the things Smart said he had to do the job he was hired to do?
Looking back, it’s now clear that Georgia is where it is because a mere handful of people did the right thing at the right time. Seen through this prism, this Georgia Bulldog football season is not just something to enjoy. It is something to marvel at.
Come on friends !!!