Georgia Football: Kirby Smart in least enviable position of any new HC

Jan 9, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart answers questions at media day at Phoenix Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart answers questions at media day at Phoenix Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

The Georgia football program has a new head coach for the first time in 16 years, but Kirby Smart doesn’t have the advantage of taking over a struggling team.

When you take over as head coach of a college football team – particularly when it’s your first head coaching gig – it’s supposed to be a time of excitement and anticipation for both the fans and the coach. That’s because generally when these coaching changes happen, it’s because the program is in serious decline or a longtime coach has just stepped away.

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Not so much the case with Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs, where a man who averaged 9.75 wins per season over 15 years was pushed out the door, and now Smart is expected to lift a pretty good program into a great one.

I’d rather be taking over for the retiring legend Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech than to be in Kirby’s position.

His work at Alabama is done, and Kirby Smart is now officially the full time head coach at the University of Georgia. He’s got quite a task in front of him as he gathers his staff, his recruits and his returning players for the 2016 season.

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When you step into situations like Miami, Central Florida, BYU, Miami, Illinois or Iowa State – who have had their struggles in recent seasons – there’s a lot of room for improvement, and just about anything viewed as a step up will help you keep your job. Add a couple of wins, get to a bowl game, beat a rival who has dominated you recently, and you are looked at with adoring eyes by the fans.

Kirby Smart is not only stepping into a program who hasn’t missed a bowl game in 19 years, but who just three seasons ago was in the SEC and national championship hunt. Although Georgia’s 10 wins in 2015 might seem stale in comparison to some seasons, it’s still a tough nut to crack. He’s also having to deal with one of the most vocal and demanding (did I mention tortured?) fan bases in the nation.

At most, Smart will get two seasons of finishing with less wins than his predecessor…that’s at most…before he begins to feel some heat. It’s more likely that 2016 will be viewed as a ramp-up season and a chance to do some of his own recruiting, and then in 2017 fans will expect the nearly impossible. They’ll want the Bulldogs to be a mirror image of the Alabama Crimson Tide of the last 10 years.

Don’t believe me? Check out some of the comments from various Georgia forums, groups and tweeters:

"Thomas from Dunwoody, Ga. – “12-2 1s my goal is not to win The SEC East, get to 10-wins like 29 coaches did last year…”Dan from Appling, Ga. – “Georgia won 10 games this season and anything less next season will not be acceptable.”Myles from Elberton, Ga. (following Bama’s national title game) – “Congratulations to coach Smart in last night’s game. Now, let’s bring that trophy to Athens!”"

And there are more and more like that all over the internet.

Smart has been around long enough to know not to feel pressure from fans and bloggers, and he also knows that he has a solid group of players returning as well as what is shaping up to be a top recruiting class for 2016 (much of it due to Richt’s groundwork). But Georgia is one of those schools where the noise coming from outside the university falls on the ears of the money-men…who in turn vote with their wallets.

Their ballots were the ones which eventually sent Mark Richt down to South Beach.

Of all the new head coaches in the country, Kirby Smart is in the least enviable position. He has to take a program on the verge of greatness, and make them great. If he fails, the backlash for Georgia AD Greg McGarity will be fierce, and Smart’s abilities as a head coach will come into question.

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Every misfire will draw the attention and the ire of Mark Richt’s supporters, and every loss to a rival will send the Georgia fan base reeling into a “what have we done?” mode. If Georgia takes a step back, the fan forums and blogosphere will be set ablaze with dueling keyboard smashers.

There’s baptism by fire, and then there’s what Kirby Smart is walking into in Athens, Ga.