Georgia Football: Kirby Smart showing elite coaching ability

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2021 national champion Georgia football team will be remembered for its talent. Kirby Smart exhibiting elite coaching skills helped, too.

The reigning 2021 national champion Georgia football team will be remembered for a few things. One is a 5-foot-10 former walk-on starting quarterback. Finally, beating big bad Alabama when it mattered the absolute most. Last I checked, there are 14 players from that team invited to the 2022 NFL Combine. That’s a record for the school. But, what no one is talking about is the elite coaching job Kirby Smart put together to get them there.

And I mean, nobody is talking about it.

A theme happened early in Kirby Smart’s career. And one that was probably deserved. That of a great head coach, but one that will always make an inexplicable mistake.

There were numerous clock management issues in his first three years. Look it up. There were inexplicable personnel issues that seemed to rear a head every year, including this past year. That may not be over.

Each contributed to a, probably, decent conclusion that Smart was better than most, but not good enough to be elite.

If you focused myopically on only those two criteria, however important, you would definitely come to that narrowed conclusion. But that formula for defining elite leaves out important data. Mainly, after success, how well do you replace your coaching staff? Can you maintain a standard, while important and integral people in the building are leaving and coming?

Nick Saban is the greatest modern college football coach, and it’s not even close. There are many reasons. But, one of the most important reasons is that, after incredible success each year, he loses coaches, identifies young coaching talent, or talented coaches who need a rehab, of sorts, he hires them, mentors them, and they all maintain his standard. And, apparently, his standard means winning.

Coach Dabo Swinney at Clemson did it, as well, but slightly differently. Now Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables was to Swinney as Kirby Smart was to Nick Saban. They both stayed longer than most coaches, and served as a “right hand man” and culture constant. Swinney lost some co-offensive coordinators, but mostly, he kept his staff together for a while, and they won two national championships and played for four with two generational quarterbacks.

After that, the list is short. If you look back to the playoff era (beginning 2014 season), Saban has coached  in six national championships and won three. Dabo Swinney has coached in four and won two. Kirby Smart has coached in two and won one. No other coach has put their team in the national title game twice. All three who have done so, won at least once, it is rarefied air.

Kirby Smart has very quietly dealt with staff disruption like an elite head coach. As I’ve said on radio one thousand times, it matters less who lose than who you hire. And that is the hallmark and birthmark of an elite coach.

Mel Tucker, Dan Lanning, Sam Pittman, Jahmile Addai, Nick Williams, and Shane Beamer just to name a few from memory, have gone on to other positions and are at the top of their game.

Glenn Schumann and Dell McGee have been with Smart from the beginning at Georgia, and reel in NFL talent every year. Schumann has recruited and developed two Butkus Award winners, and McGee has recruited, coached, and mentored more than six running backs who have been in the NFL. That number is about to go to eight.

Todd Monken and Buster Faulkner come in and the offense helps win a national championship with the aforementioned former walk-on quarterback and three freshmen wide receivers (I’m including Bowers) who led the team in yards, catches, and touchdowns. Monken was in his second year as offensive coordinator. Monken is Smart’s third offensive coordinator in six years.

The point is that Smart has been elite at identifying coaching talent, and mentoring them. That is an elite coaching characteristic.

The thing is, though, that benefit given will be put to the test this year. Smart has had to hire a new cornerbacks coach, a new outside linebackers coach, and a wide receivers coach in the last month. And news just broke that he will have to replace the offensive line coach. If you do the read of the room, that’s a lot of important new faces in the building. New voices. New personalities.

If Smart gets these hires right, and they are all, reportedly, young, aggressive, career and relationship-driven “up and coming coaches”, then he will win another national championship before he leaves Athens. If all of these hires are good, he may win more than that. That should scare folks with where the NCAA is going, in general.

In today’s college coaching world recruiting and development get all the noise. And, maybe it should. But having a cohesive coaching staff, that is elite, is also important.

The ones who win more than one national championship, apparently, get that.

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