Some of you got the point I was making in my last post of the day after yesterday’s game, but plenty of others didn’t. I thought to be fair, it might be worth spending some time fleshing things out so maybe you’d have a better understanding of what I was getting at.
For starters, I write a fan blog about Georgia football. It should go without saying that I’m a supporter of the Georgia football program. Kirby Smart is Georgia’s head football coach; therefore, I’m a supporter of Kirby Smart.
What I am not, though, is emotionally attached to Smart’s future at Georgia. That’s a disease Mark Richt cured me of several seasons ago. Nor do I see the school’s head football coach as the personification of Georgia athletics.
Some of you, like many fans I’ve known over the years, do accept one or both of those points of view. That’s totally cool with me. It’s your financial and emotional investment to make, after all, and it’s not for me to say you’re wrong about that. All I ask in interpreting my remarks about the program after yesterday’s disappointing loss is for a little reciprocity.
With that in mind, here’s what I meant last night, broken down into small bites.
- After his first full regular season as a head coach, Kirby Smart remains a blank slate. I’ve seen nothing from the way the season played out to suggest that he’ll be either a flop or a raging success over the longer haul. With regard to the first point, it’s true that he’s battling certain structural flaws, some generated by Richt, some by Butts-Mehre, that were never going to make 2016 an easy time. With regard to the latter, it’s hard to look at what happened yesterday and sense that he’s unequivocally got the program turned around and headed in the right direction. He’s a first-year head coach who, in his own words, is trying to turn around a battleship. On the job training is generally a messy business even in the best of working environments. It’s simply too soon to tell how much Smart’s learned from his initial experience.
- In my mind, it has been from the very beginning prudent to take the approach that Smart’s hire is a different beast from the process that led to Smart’s hire. (If you don’t believe me, take a little time to go back and read a few posts here from the week following Richt’s dismissal.) I don’t see how anyone can argue with a straight face that a timeline that included outright panic by the decision makers over Georgia athletics when it came to light that Smart was discussing the opening at South Carolina indicated that the decision to make Kirby Smart Georgia’s next head coach came as the result of patient and thoughtful analysis of how to improve the status of Georgia football. If that’s not problematic for you, I can only believe that’s because you’re so enamored with the twin decisions to fire Richt and hire Smart that the means to those ends simply don’t matter. At least not for now.
- Greg McGarity, as I warned at the time, has yet to make a slam dunk coaching hire in any sport. If you’re going to be optimistic about Smart’s future, I don’t see how it can be as a result of McGarity’s track record to date. Further, in many ways, Butts-Mehre remains the same kind of place that fostered the stagnation that generated the coaching change in the first place. In a time when every SEC school is rolling in TV dough, why is it that McGarity can’t move on a host of major improvements, things Georgia sports need to remain competitive, such as baseball facilities and an IPF, without first demanding supporters pony up most of the expense as a condition for proceeding? What kind of message does that send about the athletic department’s priorities? How many of you know that on many things regarding the football program, Smart doesn’t report directly to McGarity, but to another person in the athletic department? Vince Dooley set the template at B-M, and it’s worth considering that each of his two successors as athletic director both trained under him.
- Finally, what appalls me the most about this year is the cynicism of the people who run the athletics department. A bunch that can’t bring themselves to move on a host of issues that are fan-friendly concerns, like stadium facilities and the on-campus tailgating experience, find themselves able to move at light speed to capitalize on the honeymoon Smart ushered in with the state legislature for a law that makes it easier for McGarity to ignore the outside world and, of course, with the fan base by jacking up the cost of attendance. Give the man credit for knowing to strike while the iron was hot, as I doubt he’ll get the same reception from either group in 2017.
As I’ve said before, Kirby Smart is on his own. The people who hired him only know enough to make their own jobs and responsibilities easier. He’s got to carry the weight himself and that’s a daunting prospect for someone who hasn’t operated in that sort of environment before, let alone someone who’s shouldering the responsibility of running a major college football program for the first time.
Like I began with this post, he’s got my support and my sympathy. For what that’s worth, anyway. As far as his bosses go, if things don’t click and fan apathy starts settling in to the point where the checkbook feels threatened, they’ll just resort to the tried and true formula of lather, rinse and repeat. That’s the Georgia Way, after all.
UPDATE: Tyler Dawgden provides the tl;dr version with this observation.
I’ve said all along, it is impossible to write the story of Kirby Smart’s success until we see if he’s learning to be a head coach. On the job training on national television sucks. We can debate if we are a program that should be doing that, but we made the decision that we are a program that does that. Ignore the noise about what Mark Richt was or what Georgia was or blahblahblahMuschamp.
That is until we are still doing those things above in year three.