For my previous blog on Georgia’s impending hiring of Kirby Smart, click here. For other recent blogs and comments, see links below.
Here are five issues and thoughts related to the Smart decision, which is expected to become official soon after Saturday’s SEC title game between Alabama and Florida at the Georgia Dome.
1. Should Georgia have gone “offense” or “defense” with the hire?
This is an oft-debated topic. But I’ll never forget something the late Bill Walsh once said to me: He preferred head coaches with offensive backgrounds because he believed most crucial decisions that a coach makes in a game are related to the offense (whether to go for it on fourth down; the use of timeouts; two-minute drills, etc.). As a general rule, I agree. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find great head coaches with a defensive background. Let’s start with, oh, Nick Saban. Like Smart, Saban was a defensive back as a player, coached the secondary and later became a defensive coordinator at Michigan State and then the Cleveland Browns, under Bill Belichick. (Funny thing about Belichick: He turned into one of the game’s best defensive coaches but he played center and tight end at a small college.) I hate generalizing. But (here I go): Defensive coaches with a background in the secondary often seem to have a better understanding of the big picture — more cerebral, if you will — then defensive line or linebacker coaches. So they make better head coaches. But you can find exceptions to everything. Bottom line: Smart has been a strong coordinator and he has learned under the best. He has earned the opportunity to be a head coach.
2. Is the strength and condition coach more important than the coordinators?
Maybe. That’s why reports that Smart is going to bring Scott Cochran, Saban’s long-time strength and conditioning coach with him, would be a major perk for the Bulldogs. Players spend as much, if not more, time with the strength coach as they do the head coach and position coaches. It’s cliché but it’s true: Games are won as much off the field and on it, because of strength, conditioning and most of all attitude. Remember 2008: Georgia was ranked No. 4 in the nation but Alabama came to Athens and rolled the Dogs 31-0 in the first half and won 41-30. Remember this season: The Dogs were 4-0 but relatively unproven and the Tide waxed them again 38-10 in Sanford Stadium. When Alabama players walked through the tunnel before the game this season, it was Cochran who led them and he was yelling at people on the sideline to get out of the way. Some Georgia players heard that and didn’t like it, touching off a brief skirmish between the two teams (and “skirmish” is probably overstating it). More famous was Cochran’s role in the “blackout” game in 2008. Georgia players and fans wore black jerseys. Word of this filtered down to Tuscaloosa. Below is a video of Cochran barking at Alabama players during a practice that week. Around the 1:05 mark, you can barely hear Cochran telling players that Georgia is “wearing black because they’re going to a (bleepin’) funeral.”
3. The coordinators question.
Three days ago, immediate following Mark Richt’s firing, I wrote that word already was circulating that if Smart was hired, he might try to bring Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and Western Kentucky offensive coordinator Tyson Helton with him. Those rumors persist, but both coaches are weighing multiple offers (or perhaps more accurately: Their respective agents are making sure everybody knows there are multiple offers). I find it fascinating that some folks are bashing Muschamp, largely because he failed as a head coach at Florida. Is he a little psycho on the sidelines as a defensive coordinator? Sure. So are most. Did he lose it in the Alabama game? Absolutely. But that’s not a reason to not hire somebody. Muschamp is one of college football’s best defensive coordinators, and if Georgia could get him and Smart on the same staff, it would more than cushion the blow for Jeremy Pruitt’s expected exit. Honestly, I’m a little more concerned about Smart’s plans for the offense. The Dogs need somebody who can develop quarterbacks and bring some creativity and unpredictability to the table with the offense. Brian Schottenheimer did neither. Maybe Helton is that guy. Western Kentucky has ranked in the top five in the nation in scoring and yards per play for the last two seasons, but it’s worth noting head coach Jeff Brohm is the one who calls the plays.
4. Why not Jeremy Pruitt?
He’s a terrific defensive coordinator. He was the biggest reason Georgia managed to win some games down the stretch, and it’s understandable why several of the Dogs’ players were pushing for him to be kept. I agree with those sentiments. But there was some pretty bad stuff going on behind the scenes with the Georgia coaching staff and if there was any consensus about the situation, it was this: Pruitt was a divisive figure and a major cause of the dysfunction. Could that have been fixed? Perhaps. But if you’re Smart and athletic director Greg McGarity, does it make sense to take that risk? If Georgia had hired an offensive coach for the head job, I think the urgency of keeping Pruitt would have been greater. But with Smart in place, the defense should be fine, and so will those players who vented.
5. Smart: To stay or to go?
If Alabama wins the SEC championship — and it’s now a whopping 17½-point favorite over Florida — Smart could be unavailable to Georgia for a while as the Tide prepares for the college football playoffs. What should he do? Georgia fans obviously would want him to come right away. Alabama fans would want him to stay. Former Georgia coach Mark Richt faced an identical situation when he was Florida State’s offensive coordinator and accepted the Georgia job. Actually, impending Falcons coach Dan Quinn was in a similar situation as Seattle’s defensive coordinator in the Super Bowl last year. It’s not easy. So who’s decision should this be? My answer: Nick Saban’s, in concert with Smart. Smart has to be honest with Saban about whether he wants to stay or not. But Saban is the one who has to determine whether Smart would be too distracted to perform his duties. The Dogs don’t get a vote here. So let’s just wait to see how this plays out.• Recent ramblings • Kirby Smart hire makes sense for Georgia, even if wow factor lacking • Richt will enjoy quiet for first time, may be done coaching • Greg McGarity’s career will be defined by first major hire • Falcons have a problem, and surprisingly it’s their quarterback • Richt’s firing confirms what many believed: It was time for a change • McGarity mum on Richt, and Georgia’s win doesn’t feel like a celebration • Short takes on Georgia’s win • Johnson, Bobinski confident about Tech’s future • Weekend Predictions: Dogs over Jackets in Bad Aura Bowl • A new tradition, in the spirit of Furman Bisher: Giving thanks (to those who deserve it) • Overreaction Monday: Richt’s status, Ryan’s fall, and does Tech have a chance? • Georgia Tech loses Justin Thomas, ball and all hope • Short takes: Jackets lose Thomas, fumble nine times (yes, nine) • Weekend Predictions: It’s marshmallow opponent week • Coppolella tired of being roasted, says, ‘We are not tanking’ • Roddy White has survived far worse things than reduced role in offense: tragedy • Why are those Freeman T-shirts included in Braves’ clearance sale? • Overreaction Monday: Richt’s ploy, Falcons’ bye, Braves’ salary dump • Jeremy Pruitt’s defense is salvaging Georgia’s season • Short takes on Georgia’s win over Auburn • Simmons gone, and Braves’ offseason already looking like last one • Weekend Predictions: It’s not a good time to invest in Georgia • Former Georgia player Faloughi at center of Missouri protests • Overreaction Monday: Kyle Shanahan, have you met Roddy White? • Latest Falcons’ embarrassment is on Dan Quinn • Short takes: This Falcons’ loss is on Dan Quinn • Weekend Predictions: Dogs in middle of Dysfunction Junction • Georgia’s finish, Eason status shouldn’t tilt Richt decision • Richt should take over Georgia’s struggling offense • Overreaction Monday: Loss-loss-loss means chaos all around • Mark Richt has failed too many big moments — it’s time for a change at Georgia • Falcons may be 6-2 but they don’t look the part • Short takes: Sloppy Falcons gift-wrap game for mediocre Bucs • Matt Ryan: ‘It comes down to me being better’