Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and the story of a flashy, neutral-site opener:
“It started as a recruiting strategy by Nick,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who served on Saban’s defensive staff for the past nine seasons, “which paid unbelievable dividends, because we go into (Atlanta in 2008 to play) Clemson, and just smash them that one game (34-10), and it kind of started the program, and it set a trademark. … You go outside your footprint and have a great game. In recruiting, it helps and the national exposure you get you can’t replace.”
Smart starts his head-coaching career with the Bulldogs in a neutral-site opener against the ACC Coastal champion Tar Heels. He has adapted Saban’s offseason methods because he has seen them work.
“If you ask a strength coach, any strength coach in the country, they will hard-sell that opening game,” Smart said. “The trend is, you go in reverse, so the first week of summer workouts, they’re going to (show video of) the game they have last. At Alabama, we would start with Auburn. … You show clips of that game, whether you won or lost, you show motivating clips of that game, so they’re thinking about that opponent. A kid’s squatting, he’s looking at a picture of the guy he’s going to line up across.”
By the end of summer workouts, when the team is lifting the most, the players are watching clips of their first opponent. “It’s a hell of a lot better when that first game is Clemson, North Carolina or Wisconsin than it is when it’s App State or Western Michigan or somebody,” Smart said.
I’d say it’s something we’d better get used to, Dawg fans. The question is, would you rather have that splashy opener in, say, Dallas, or another cupcake game in Athens? The money’s about the same, so McGarity won’t object (though, tough luck, local businesses).
Recruiting sells, you know?