The big picture reason offered for dismissing Mark Richt after the end of the 2015 season was that the program had plateaued. Sure, it was good for 9-10 wins on a steady basis, along with the occasional divisional title, but that wasn’t the place Georgia should be.
Enter Kirby Smart, who’s had a helluva run in three short seasons. More wins, a conference title, a spot in a national title game, heightened fund raising (hey, this is Butts-Mehre we’re talking about, so don’t pretend that doesn’t count), all would seem to point onward and upward.
All that is presented as background for what popped up at The Athletic yesterday, from Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman. Both of them posted their lists of the 25 best college head coaches. Mandel’s ($$) had Smart 6th; Feldman ($$) ranked Smart 12th. I’m not here to rail about the overall positioning, as both were complimentary, but to point out one curious thing — they both ranked Lincoln Riley fourth.
I found that… well, curious, considering that Riley, unlike Smart, hasn’t coached in a national title game, mainly because Smart beat Riley in the most memorable Rose Bowl game of my life. Feldman dinged Smart for losing by large margins to Auburn and LSU, but had nary a word to say about Oklahoma getting smoked by Alabama in last season’s CFP semi-final game.
Both seem to put weight on Riley’s “innovative offensive mind”, as Feldman referred to it. Smart, in turn, is given the greatest credit for his recruiting prowess. There seems to be an implicit assumption in their rankings that the Jimmies and Joes can only take you so far as a head coach.
All of which leads me to yesterday’s Mandel Mailbag ($$), where he was asked the following question:
Not to say Georgia will fire Kirby by any means, but if he doesn’t win it all in the next two years, there’s a problem, right? He has arguably the most talented roster in the country top-to-bottom along with ’Bama and Clemson. Am I crazy to believe the Dawgs should win one of the next two?
Mandel’s response? Winning a national title is hard, but, yeah, if Smart doesn’t come through in the next two years, he’ll be a disappointment. Like it or not, if that’s what comes to be, Mandel will be far from alone in his assessment. The irony here is that Smart is being dinged for the sin of being an elite recruiter over schemer, while also being held to the expectations of what elite recruiting should bring a program.
Of course, Smart’s real sin is that he’s coaching against his mentor, arguably the best coach in college football history, in order to elevate his status to truly elite in that two-year time frame.
Anyway, my question for you is this: if Georgia continues to come up just short of the ultimate goal, when does Mandel’s take begin to trickle down Athens way? Richt got fifteen years, but nobody expects the school to be that generous with Smart, even if he’s consistently hitting greater heights than Richt did. When would you expect to start hearing whispers about plateaus again?