If you listened to The Audible podcast I linked to yesterday past Stewart Mandel’s interview with Kirby Smart, you would have heard Mandel and Bruce Feldman discuss where Smart wants to take the program. (By the way, Feldman makes an excellent point about how Aaron Murray might be the exact type of quarterback Smart looks for.) The point they both arrive at is that Kirby intends to, as Mandel put it, “out-Alabama, Alabama”.
Andy Staples pretty much goes to the same place here.
Smart got this job not because he once played safety for the Bulldogs. He got it because he served as the defensive coordinator for the man who knows how to regularly get those last two or three wins. At Alabama, any season that doesn’t end with a national title is an abject failure. Smart helped Nick Saban capture four national titles in the past seven seasons. So, like former Saban assistants Derek Dooley, Jimbo Fisher, Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain before him, Smart has been hired to lead a program with the expectation that he will bring Saban’s formula and get Saban’s results…
Smart knows this, but long-term thinking is antithetical to The Process. The greatest challenge in the Alabamafication of Georgia’s program is getting the Bulldogs to think the way the Crimson Tide players do. While Saban’s skill at projecting and recruiting talent and then drawing up schemes ranks among the best in the game, his greatest gift is his ability to make a huge group of 18- to 22-year-olds perform consistently. He does this by making them forget the big picture exists. Instead, they concentrate solely on the next play, the next weight-room rep and the next English Composition paper. “The media is going to portray it as ‘Are you going to win the SEC East? Are you going to win the national championship? Uh uh,” Smart said. “We’re worried about practice No. 10. Then we’re worried about practice No. 11.”
Last week Smart sought a way to refocus his players before a practice. He feared they had hit a wall. He worried some felt too sorry for themselves to pay attention. So, before the Bulldogs took the field, Smart showed them a brief video in which Alonzo Mourning discussed his return to the NBA following a kidney transplant. After hearing about Mourning’s fight, a few hours of practice didn’t seem so bad. Smart will have to find something else to reinforce that message every day, and he knows he will have to communicate it differently to different players. “That’s where Nick is ahead of the curve on everybody,” Smart said. “He’s got a different way to reach every kid. He’s also got every accessory.”
Smart has yet to decide if he’ll use the same array of consultants Saban uses. (For example, Alabama contracts three different people to serve as mental coaches for its players.) But Smart will absolutely try to mimic Saban’s core principle…
Will it work? Greg McGarity has made a big bet that it will. If Butts-Mehre has indeed bought in all the way to letting the football program operate in a wide open manner, resource wise, McGarity’s judgment may indeed be vindicated.
But Georgia ain’t Alabama. Not now, not ever. There’s a lot of history and a lot of entrenched attitudes that Smart is going to have to work extremely hard to overcome. That’s the big advantage Saban had over Smart in coming into the job at Alabama. There simply wasn’t anything he had to fight when he started.
Kirby has to build a championship football program and change the Georgia Way, all at the same time. That’s a lot for anyone to have on his plate, let alone a first time head coach. Is he up to it? And, perhaps more relevantly, is the athletic department up to it?