Georgia Football: Can Kirby Smart replicate Nick Saban?

Dec 4, 2021; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart greets Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban before the SEC championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 4, 2021; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart greets Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban before the SEC championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

Georgia football is expected to lose massive talent and experience in 2022. Can the Bulldogs overcome that using the Nick Saban method?

The over-arching, over-enthused national media narrative is starting to form around the reigning national champion Georgia football for the 2022 season.

Conventional wisdom informs that Georgia is expected to lose as many as 11 players to the coming NFL draft, four of them possibly in the first round, and therefore, Georgia necessarily takes a step back. It makes sense. It’s conventional.

And these words aren’t going to argue that it won’t happen. Technically, anything other than a national title is “taking a step back”. So, yeah. They probably do. And frankly, that team is losing a lot of dudes. That can’t be overstated.

But if, for some reason, The Georgia Bulldogs do meet elevated expectations and repeat (or even come close), it will indicate that Kirby Smart is further along than most thought in implementing “The Saban Method”.

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It is not a hidden secret that Smart got to Georgia in 2016 and immediately started trying to emulate and replicate what he had learned from his time with Nick Saban. If you don’t know that, I hope I never have to watch a game with you. No offense.

In his first press conference as head coach, Smart talked about getting bigger, faster, stronger, and doing that through recruiting. Basically, he looked at Georgia’s roster, compared it to Alabama’s, from whence he came, and it was a 911 from the jump. Fast forward to 2021, and his Georgia Bulldogs just beat that program that he has been trying to replicate from the beginning.

Through recruiting, UGA was able to catch Bama, in terms of talent on the field. But, recruiting talent is only one part of The Saban Method. The other is development. But, what kind of development? How did that happen?

In a few words: margin of victory.

One of the many things that makes Saban the “greatest” is the continuity of player development while his coaching staff turns over like a clock on the devil’s powder. Football has never seen anything like it. It’s beyond impressive. If you pay attention to Smart, you can start to see some of that with him after six years.

So, how do they continually develop these players with high coaching and staff turnover? Margin of victory.

If you look at Coach Saban’s early tenure at Alabama, his margin of victory in games rose every year, but was minuscule early. There is a direct correlation between Bama averaging wins by 18 or more for a given season, and winning championships and replacing NFL talent. Or, as they say in the business, “reloading”.

The same can be said for Smart at Georgia. Margin of victory has waxed and waned a bit in his six  years in Athens, but has improved overall. In fact, when a Smart team averages wins by 20 or more, for a season, they make it to the National Championship game. They also litter the League with talent in those years, apparently.

You might be thinking, great reader, “of course, there is a correlation with NFL talent causing better teams to have a higher margin of victory!”. But that’s precisely missing the point.

Saban is so good at it, because while they are mud-stopping a team, or just grinding them down quarter by quarter, he is playing the twos and threes in almost every game. You can reload talent every year, and develop those players, in spite of coaching turnover, if your backup players average playing in nine games a season and 30 percent of the plays in every game.

By the time those dudes are called on to start, they have already played in every atmosphere and stadium available, and not just in garbage time. We’re talking late second quarter, late third quarter minutes. And the garbage time.

And that gets us to the 2022 Georgia Bulldogs and Smart. Names like Stackhouse, Milton, McIntosh, Mondon, Dumas-Johnson, and Logue are not known at all by the casual public, but they are known by Bulldog fans already. Why? Because they have played a bunch of football. Stackhouse played in nine games last year, yet nobody knows his name.

There is a massive difference between being the help and being the dude. You do all the same work with none of the credit. You do the work, though. Lots of film. Lots of reps.

But there is a difference. Pressure. Leadership. Accountability. Not everyone is cut out for those things.

Coach Saban is already a legend because of his ability to reload every single year. If Smart is able to manage these 2021 departures in terms of athleticism, leadership, and experience, and “plug and play” at certain positions this year, with little drop off in on-field production and locker-room leadership, it should get your attention.

It probably means Smart is further along in his build, and better at emulating the greatest, than anyone gave him credit for just a few months ago.

Easier to write than do. But, it is possible. We’ve seen it before.

Next. Way-too-early Top 25 rankings projections for 2022. dark