Criticism warranted, but conclusions about Smart premature

Kirby Smart is struggling, so it’s clear Georgia made a mistake thinking it can do better than Mark Richt.

(Not necessarily.)

A new coach who can’t even get his team ready to play Nicholls State or Vanderbilt is obviously overmatched as a head coach.

(A bit premature.)

This proves yet again that former defensive coordinators make lousy head coaches.

(I’ll pass this gem along to Nick Saban. And Bill Belichick. And Don Shula.)

There is a lot of noise around the Georgia program. There should be. The Bulldogs are coming off a humiliating home loss to a two-touchdown underdog, Vanderbilt, and have lost three of their past four.

So they have drop-kicked any realistic chance of winning the SEC East even before the annual weekend of crushed dreams in Jacksonville.

It’s fair to have concerns about the Bulldogs in general and Smart in particular. But seven games into Smart’s first season is a little early for grand proclamations. His 4-3 start — while alarming given the Vandy game, the blowout at Ole Miss and the debacle against a bought-and-paid-for FCS opponent, Nicholls State — isn’t that dissimilar to the seven-game records of the previous seven six Georgia head coaches. Consider: Wally Butts 3-4; Johnny Griffith 3-4, Vince Dooley 4-2-1, Ray Goff 4-3, Jim Donnan 3-4, Mark Richt 5-2.

There is criticism. There is noise. There is a consensus in the dark corners of the social-media underworld that the house is on fire and that Smart is overmatched in his position. How does he deal with it?

“I don’t deal with it,” he said Tuesday. “I focus on us getting better. With this job comes criticism. I’ve accepted it. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it with good friends and programs I’ve been in. That doesn’t scare me. What I’m worried about is our team and our players developing.”

Smart is new to sitting in the first chair, but he’s not new to this world. He a coach’s son. He has worked in major programs and the NFL, and for most of his career studied under one of the most intense and demanding coaches of all time: Nick Saban. So he understands what comes with the job and he doesn’t run from criticism.

“Welcome to the word we live in as coaches,” he said after referencing some of Georgia’s close losses this season. “There’s a lot of areas we’re going to improve on. But am I questioning myself? No. You have to look at what you’re doing and see if there’s a better way, but everyone is doing that.”

Unless Smart wins SEC titles and elevates Georgia to that of serious national championship contender, it will forever be debated whether the administration made the correct decision to fire Richt. That’s fair. But those who were in the camp that the Bulldogs had hit a ceiling under Richt shouldn’t be making a U-turn now. Even in the worst-case scenario, with the program crash-and-burning under Smart, it wouldn’t mean Georgia was wrong to move on from Richt. It would mean only that the school picked the wrong replacement.

It’s fair to question and wonder how a coaching staff can blow timeout situations, or have plays with 10 or 12 players on the field, or allow a 95-yard kickoff return to open a game, or rank 13th in the SEC and 97th nationally in penalties per game, or not give the ball to Nick Chubb on fourth-and-1. But that doesn’t scream what the finish line looks like.

Smart isn’t Saban. He likely never will be Saban. But how did even Saban look when he lost to Louisiana-Monroe, finished 6-6 and wound up in Shreveport in his first season at Alabama in 2007?

At that point in time, Alabama was a punchline, not a blueprint that everybody wanted to follow.

Georgia looked like a pretty good team against North Carolina (which has won five of six since, including victories at Florida State and at Miami). It had some promising moments at Missouri and South Carolina and even in the loss to Tennessee. This is a team that can run the table in the last five weeks … or fall off its chair.

Smart said he self-evaluates, but he hasn’t changed his message or his agenda. He harps on players to improve but, “We also tell kids all the time, it’s not them, it’s us.”

Specifically, it’s him. Because when a team doesn’t improve, it ultimately falls on the head coach. It’s just too early to assume how this ends.

Subscribe to the new, “We Never Played The Game” podcast on iTunes with Jeff Schultz and WSB’s Zach Klein. New episodes every Monday and Thursday.

Reader Comments

Next Up in Sports

WATCH: Tom Herman focusing on coaching not rumors about his future
Houston coach Tom Herman is expected to be on the shortlist of candidates for numerous jobs when the college football season ends, including the...
Is there any way to slow down Alabama’s pass rush?
Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s defensive front did what it always does. It swarmed, pressured, hit, and scored.
Former Michigan guard Trey Burke says dorm food comments were taken out of context
Former Michigan guard Trey Burke said his comments about the university’s dorm food were “clearly taken out of context” via Twitter...
LSU looks like it will be at full health when the Tigers host Alabama next week
BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU offensive line, which hasn’t been at full strength for nearly a month, sure picked a good time to get healthy.
Biggest story line for each SEC team heading into Week 9
This week, Georgia and Florida renew a classic SEC rivalry in Jacksonville. Elsewhere, some teams, such as Kentucky and Auburn, will hope to stay hot...
More Stories

You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of free premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on