I am a cynic about many things. I’m sure that comes as not much of a surprise to anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis. No doubt the course of this 2016 season is bringing out the snark in me, especially when I listen to folks try to defend two of the most disappointing games I’ve sat through in Sanford Stadium (and remember, Kirby’s only coached four home games!) as somehow being in context with the history of the Georgia program.
But I’m not that cynical, as this putrid Jeff Schultz column reminds me. All it takes is a little condescension to bring me back to being clear-eyed about Georgia’s future with Smart.
It’s fair to have concerns about the Bulldogs in general and Smart in particular. But seven games into Smart’s first season is a little early for grand proclamations. His 4-3 start — while alarming given the Vandy game, the blowout at Ole Miss and the debacle against a bought-and-paid-for FCS opponent, Nicholls State — isn’t that dissimilar to the seven-game records of the previous seven six Georgia head coaches. Consider: Wally Butts 3-4; Johnny Griffith 3-4, Vince Dooley 4-2-1, Ray Goff 4-3, Jim Donnan 3-4, Mark Richt 5-2.
There is criticism. There is noise. There is a consensus in the dark corners of the social-media underworld that the house is on fire and that Smart is overmatched in his position.
Okay, a lot of condescension. But I digress. There is a vast difference between being frustrated over a few early season debacles, not that I’m excusing those, and believing that the experiment is ready to be deemed a total failure. It’s not fair to Smart (not that he’s likely to care much at this point, to be honest), who’s operating under a longer time frame than those of Schultz’ ilk credit Georgia’s fans with having. At least I hope it’s just those of Schultz’ ilk.
I know that some of you are absolutely going to despise this quote because of its source, but if you can take the trouble to separate the message from the messenger, it says a lot about what Smart believes he’s doing.
On the idea of “middle management,” sometimes your job is just to make things work. And sometimes your task is to make incremental improvements. It’s like steering an ocean liner and making a 2 degree turn so that 10 years from now we’re suddenly in a very different place. You can’t turn 50 degrees all at once because that’s not how societies – especially democracies – work. As long as we’re turning in the right direction and we’re making progress, government is working like its supposed to.
I have to start with the supposition that there was a legitimate reason to replace Mark Richt, and, honestly, been there, done that. Further, as a Georgia fan, even if I question the process that brought Kirby Smart home — and, boy, do I — I sincerely hope and am invested in the belief that his vision will ultimately be vindicated. There have been longstanding flaws in the program that need fixing, and that fixing won’t come overnight.
None of that, admittedly, makes this season any more pleasant to suffer through. What bugs me the most about that is no one associated with the administration has ever had enough respect for me or the rest of the fan base to admit the reality of the situation. Smart himself used Obama’s big boat analogy to describe his approach to this season, although admittedly without getting very deep into what the likely consequences in the short term would be. But the people who were responsible for bringing Kirby Smart to Athens? Please.
Either they themselves were in the camp that blinded itself to that because of a naive belief that “we’re Georgia and Richt was holding the program back!”, because ninety three thousand showed up at G-Day or some other nonsense, or were in a cynical group who didn’t know what might be coming, but saw an opportunity arising out of the natural excitement that comes with a coaching change to flush a few extra bucks out of our wallets while the honeymoon was in full effect.
All of which is why I can sympathize with those of us who are plenty disturbed from the low points we’ve been through in a mere seven games, while acknowledging that it’s not easy for any of us to see if in fact Smart’s on to something when he says things like this:
“I don’t deal with it,” he said Tuesday. “I focus on us getting better. With this job comes criticism. I’ve accepted it. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it with good friends and programs I’ve been in. That doesn’t scare me. What I’m worried about is our team and our players developing.”
I’m fairly certain I’ll do more grumbling this season, because there’s no reason to think after last Saturday any real corners have been turned when it comes to how this team approaches a game. When I do grumble, though, I’ll do my best to confine my irritation to the effort at hand, as opposed to any bigger picture stuff, because it’s simply too soon to draw any overarching conclusions.
For those of you who can’t quit the Alabama 2007 analogy — and note that Schultz indulged you — I will grant you that I would love as much as the next Georgia fan to experience the same shock I had watching Saban’s team in the following season’s opener demolish Clemson in a red and black setting, but who’s to say things will turn around that dramatically? I will settle for recognizing steady progress as it comes. For now, I’ve got no choice but to go with the flow.
At least I’m not cynical enough yet to think about what comes if Smart’s wrong. Let’s hope you don’t have to check back with me in three years or so on that.