From Gentry Estes, who’s covered both Georgia and Alabama previously:
This was one of the most predictable head coaching hires SEC football has ever seen, rumored and whispered about for years around Alabama’s and Georgia’s programs while Smart – a Bulldogs defensive back in the 1990s – earned national attention as an 11-year Nick Saban staffer on the rise (eight of them as the Tide’s defensive coordinator). Mark Richt’s long run finally played out, ultimately ending with an unsatisfying 9-3 regular season in 2015 and a painful divorce, with 15 years being tossed aside in Richt’s firing.
Many understandably scoffed at Georgia’s decision to cut loose Richt, a successful head coach – amid a season that ended in 10 wins. But it was the way losses played out and the way the program continued to fall short of annual expectations in the SEC East (particularly with back-to-back embarrassing losses to a less-than-stellar Florida) that spawned a growing feeling among those who make such decisions that it was time. Things had gotten stale, and after all, there was an obvious replacement about four hours to the West.
It wasn’t a long search. Smart was the only candidate.
And looking back, the whole chain of events seemed more inevitable as time passed, speaking to the unique dilemma of a proud program like Georgia that had become consistently good but rarely great, being too often compared – like others in the SEC – with envy for what has been happening in Tuscaloosa.
Looking back now, it does indeed seem predictable, but — mea culpa! — a year or two ago, it didn’t seem so to me. I obviously underestimated Kirby’s ability to remain in good graces in certain quarters after shunning Richt’s offer to return as defensive coordinator. I also underestimated the degree to which Saban envy consumed a number of influential parties involved in the firing/hiring process.
The reality is that if you’re going to remake the program into Alabama East, Smart really is the perfect candidate to sell that, by virtue of where he’s spent the last decade and by virtue of where he spent the latter part of the nineties.
It’s a plan. Let’s hope it works.