Kirby Smart knows Georgia has to step up in his second season

Georgia coach Kirby Smart gestures speaks to the media on the first day of preseason camp on Monday in Athens. (AP photo)

ATHENS – There were times in Kirby Smart’s first season when he used the, “It takes time to turn around a big ship” analogy, which probably weren’t the best choice of words to fall back on because the program he inherited was coming off consecutive 10-win seasons and, therefore, clearly not heading straight into a fishing wharf.

But there’s little question Smart, created in the Nick Saban coaching laboratory, had a different way of doing things than Mark Richt. He worked at a faster pace. He seemed more demanding of players and staff. He operated on a clock in which every waking minute would be squeezed into submission for maximum win-potential. So yes, there would be an adjustment in Athens.

But that’s over now.

To suggest Georgia must win the SEC or go to the college football playoffs in Smart’s second season as head coach would be overstatement. To even set a specific win-total or bowl mandate without knowing how good opponents like Florida or Auburn will be this season is difficult. But there’s no question the Bulldogs need to look better coached and appear better prepared in Smart’s second season. They can’t have a 1-4 stretch again. They can’t finish 4-4 in the SEC again. For the love of Wally Butts, they can’t wind up in the dollar store of bowl games again, the Liberty Bowl.

Smart addressed the media before Georgia began pre-season practices Monday, five weeks before the team’s season opener against Appalachian State. He understands expectations go up this year and he’s fine with that. At least this time he can fall back on something with more substance than a big-ship analogy. Richt and Saban are among several coaches whose programs struggled early in their tenure, then took a significant jump in their second or third seasons.

Saban went from 7-6 in his first year at Alabama in 2007 to 12-2 (8-0 in the SEC) in the second. Smart was an assistant on that staff.

“I think it’s a great analogy,” he said. “Last night I had a guy that we used consulting with our team, Trevor Moawad, who sent me some bits and pieces of video from this day, the second year at Alabama, of just the players talking about how they felt much more comfortable understanding what the standard was, what the expectation was and that no matter what, you can’t really relax out at practice because you don’t know what’s coming — to expect the unexpected.”

Smart and his Georgia staff ramped up summer practices, changing the players’ expected workouts without warning to gauge how they would react and get them to accustomed to feeling “uncomfortable.”

“I draw back on that year, coming off a pretty average year, asking, ‘How are we going to get to the next spot?’” he said.

There are two significant differences between Georgia in 2017 and Alabama in 2008: 1) Alabama had a senior quarterback, John Parker Wilson. Georgia has Jacob Eason, who is coming off a true freshman season and, talent notwithstanding, is still trying to figure things out; 2) Saban was already a proven commodity as a head coach, having won a national championship at LSU. Smart isn’t a proven head coach, yet.

But there are several examples of coaches who took a leap after their first seasons. Richt went from 8-4 in 2001 to 13-1 in 2002, and led Georgia to its first SEC title in two decades. Florida’s Urban Meyer went from 9-3 to 13-1 at Florida; Ohio State’s Jim Tressel from 7-5 to 14-0; Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops from 7-5 to 13-0.

Travel back decades. There’s more evidence of great head coaches who stumbled out of the gate, then improved: Bryant’s first four years at Alabama went like this: 5-4, 7-2-2, to 8-1-2, 11-0. John McKay at USC improved from 4-6 to 4-5-1 to 11-0. Joe Paterno’s first four years at Penn State: 5-5, 8-2-1, 11-0, 11-0.

A thought: Georgia has a chance to be really good this season.

A warning: I’ve typed those words before. Several times.

There will be an early road test at Notre Dame. There are games at Tennessee, at Auburn and against Florida. Georgia’s pain of 2016 included a blowout loss at Ole Miss, losses to Vanderbilt and Tennessee, and blowing a 27-14 lead at home to Georgia Tech with less than seven minutes left.

The Dogs barely escaped with wins against Nicholls, and Missouri, and Kentucky — not quite the superpowers on the schedule.

But they should have one of the best defenses in the SEC. They should have one of the best running attacks in the nation with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, both of whom bypassed turning pro. They should have better decision-making from Eason.

The offensive line is a question. Isn’t the offensive line always a question?

But the biggest questions surround Smart. Can he elevate Georgia’s program like so many in Athens hoped when the school hired him off of Saban’s staff after a fourth national championship with the Tide?

Saban’s Alabama team became a national punchline in 2007. It lost four straight games to close the regular season, including one to Louisiana-Monroe. Saban’s bowl that season: Independence — Liberty’s sister in bowl hell). So there’s a parallel to Georgia’s 2016 season.

But Smart said he doesn’t remember many doubts surrounding the Alabama program before the second year, and added, “I don’t think it’s that way here. I had coached against Georgia. I had recruited against Georgia. I pretty much knew what was here and I knew the expectation level was here, and I also knew the expectation didn’t necessarily meet the quality of players that were here. That’s indicative of what the NFL thought of our roster last year.

“Moving forward, you say: Where are we going from here? Are the kids buying in and doing what they have to do? I think they are. They are adjusting well. They know what to expect.”

So there’s one more reason to feel good about this season — or one less excuse if things go sideways.

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Reader Comments 0

142 comments
twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

Committee really blew it letting a team in that couldn't even win it's sorry @$$ conference - Little Ten.

What did they get in return? 31-0 snoozer for a "playoff game".

Worthless buttnuts exposed again!

Bawahwahwahwah

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

Shut out! Blown out! Worthless!

31 - 0 - Hi - 0

Bawahwahwahwah

BaseballBuff
BaseballBuff

Jacob Eason remains a big question mark for me. I very much want him to succeed, but he looks too much like a kid heaving the ball in a street football game, overthrowing his wide receivers and showing no touch at all on screen passes. A tight spiral every now and then would also be nice.

OH:IO
OH:IO

dogs not only ride Bama's coattails they now ride Clemson's too. 


dogs have no coattails of their own. 

BaseballBuff
BaseballBuff

@OH:IO  You are the troll from hell. Do you ever have anything intelligent to say? Doesn't Ohio State (or Georgia Tech) have a blog you can hang out on?

OH:IO
OH:IO

In case you missed it, beating the SEC! SEC! is not the be-all end all. National Championships and Heismans are the NATIONAL bench mark. 


dogs are seriously lacking in both and do not even begin to enter the NATIONAL conversation. 


Decade and Century. Say no more. 

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

Little ten fan getting owned on a dawg blog. Nothing better!

31-0 spanky!

Bawahwahwahwah

OH:IO
OH:IO

dogs got nothin' 


Can't claim anything for their own program. 



DawgNole
DawgNole

@OH:IO

Can't claim anything???

Multiple NCs, SEC titles, and Heisman winners.

Have you been reduced to nothing more than blatant lies, lying hypocrite?

0-31. Own it!

DawginLex
DawginLex

All I know is we played Clemson in 2014 and steamrolled them


0 HI 0 plays them and???  31-0 HI 0


And we have never lost to 0 HI 0 in a bowl game.


Hiding up north behind their BIG skirts doesn't change the facts. You can't beat us or Clemson


Also still waiting on TOJACKET to man up and agree to the ban bet on UGA/GT game this year. He won't because he knows who is going to win.............. 

DawgNole
DawgNole

@DawginLex

Don't forget osu's glittering 0-3 record vs FSU in football.

And its brilliant ONE win in history versus the SEC in bowl games.

Then there's its astounding 6-37 LOSS to FSU--in baseball, mind you!

And the lying hypocrite oh:io is actually proud of all that enviable history. 

What a miserable lowlife.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@OH:IO

More low-class commentary from the lying hypocrite.

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

1999 nerds. Last time you won at the Joke! Bawahwahwahwah

2009 = vacated!!! Bawahwahwahwah

3-13 ! Nuff said!

TideDawg
TideDawg

Some of the reporting articles on Kirby Smart come out more as threats than anything else. Well, that's the name of the game.....it's college football and we all want Kirby to do well. We're finally in a real countdown to kicking off the college season. Some great openers coming up, headlined by Alabama/FSU. Somehow reports on Saban have failed to bring up why Al. opens with a powerhouse team and not a cupcake. If a team loses the opener to a powerhouse team, then runs the table, nobody remembers that loss and it seldom hurts the ranking at the end of the year. I'd say that is a wise decision by any team that expects to be in the thick of a race for a college football playoff game. Kirby's going to be OK. I can't wait to see him go up against Saban in an SEC Championship game. It may happen this year.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TideDawg

BINGO on the impact opening up with a powerhouse.

And kudos to both teams--FSU and Bama--for having the guts to do it! A great way to earn respect--win or lose.

The gutless programs that don't should follow their example. 

dawg fan
dawg fan

If you are a fan of a football program that has balls and makes no secret of the fact that it wants to win big can you imagine how depressed and downtrodden you would be if your team were 37-29 the past 5 seasons?  You'd have probably given up  hope by now.  You'd be gearing up for hunting season instead of college football season.  Not Tech fans though.  No sirree.  As long as these pathetic cowards have an excuse they are A-Okay fine.  It doesn't even have to be a good one.  It can be completely fabricated and made up.  They don't care.  Their lack of ambition is rivaled only by their lack of integrity.  No, all they care about is doing just enough to get by and duping enough morons into believing they should feel sorry for their football program.  Classes are hard. We don't have the resources.  Boo freaking hoo.  Cry babies cry.  On and on it goes year after year. It very well may be one of the most pathetic loser displays in sports history.    

HonkyKat99
HonkyKat99

Keep in mind, UGA has been the pre-season SEC Champs and National Champs for the last 10+ years IN A ROW.  Woof Woof

DawginLex
DawginLex

@HonkyKat99 Sure we have you loser TROLL BOY


Why don't you and 0 HI 0 get a room nerd.

dawg fan
dawg fan

All this big tough talk out of the nerdherd and you'd think they were a regular playoff participant instead of an absolutely craptastic 37-29 the past 5 seasons.  I cannot think of a dumber group of people than Georgia Tech football fans.  They really take the taco with their stupidity. 

TOJacket
TOJacket

Smartest players and Coach in CFB. We run this dang State.

dawg fan
dawg fan

@TOJacket  Maybe but absolutely without question the dumbest most idiotic fans.  37-29 but you flap those gums like your Florida State or something.  Then, to make matters worse for yourselves, you try to claim that we're the delusional ones.  I really don't understand how you idiots can function in modern society.  You are THAT stupid. 

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Mulk

If 2 out of 3 means you run it, what does 13 of 16 mean?

TOJacket
TOJacket

I know that Kirby brought one of those Bama bag men with him to Athens. Good grief!! Top 3 class flocking to a team full of Pigeons?

dawg fan
dawg fan


@TOJacket  If by "bag men" you mean balls that would be correct.  We have them.  Tech doesn't.  Nothing but excuses out of the Joke going on 30 years now.  It's really embarrassing for this state. 


dawg fan
dawg fan

@Mulk Nothing but pathetic sore loser excuses about academics and resources out of the nerdherd going on 40 years too.  That's a much better situation I guess.  You are really really smart.  No seriously, you are. 

Mulk
Mulk

@dawg fan @Mulk dog fan,


I do wish Tech recruited better and I do wish they beat UGAG more. often. But, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.  And, I bet you wish that UGAG did not only win the pre-season awards. And, I bet you wished UGAG beat Florida more often than they do. 

dawg fan
dawg fan

@Mulk I wish fans of our instate rival weren't so freaking stupid.  What do national titles and Florida have to do with the joke pizz ant program you root for?  Worry about your own house nerd.  37-29 the past 5 years.  You've got a lot to worry about.  Georgia Tech=JOKE. 

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Mulk: ". . . 2 out of 3 ain't bad."

_____________

How's 13 of 16?

Mulk
Mulk

@dawg fan @Mulk


Speaking of stupid. I didn't mention national titles but the Florida reference has more to do with what has to be a UGAG frustration. Read the post, stupid.

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

Little ten losers hanging out on an SEC article.

Bawahwahwahwah

31-0 bawahwahwahwah

TOJacket
TOJacket

Ready for your annual let down loser boy?

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

This the year tech breaks the 1999 losing streak at the Joke? Bawahwahwahwah

Hell Horsey
Hell Horsey

Like all other teams in this state, this team will CHOKE when it matters.  Losers.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TOJacket

"Whose" your team??? LOL

Who's actually the stupid one?!

Here's a hint: Everyone on here knows except you.