It’s pleasant to visit with my fellow Scout.com publishers and writers, and during Southeastern Conference Media Days I spent some interesting time with Dean Legge of Dawg Post, the Georgia site.
Alabama and Georgia do not meet in regular season football this year, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a topic of particular interest, especially to Dean. That subject, of course, is Kirby Smart, who went from longtime assistant coach and defensive coordinator under Nick Saban to head coach at Georgia, his alma mater.
My observations of Smart were mostly positive. I do have a bit of a prejudice against a high-profile college football team hiring a head coach with no head coach experience. Football is football, but the duites and demands of a head coach are much different than those of an assistant. (See Mike DuBose, excellent assistant, and Mike Shula, longtime NFL assistant.)
In addition to me sharing what I knew and/or thought about Kirby Smart, it was interesting to me to hear that Smart appears to have taken the Saban Process to Athens. From all accounts, the Bulldogs followers are pleased with what has been going on, though no games yet have been played. They like the coaching staff he has put together, they are pleased with his early recruiting success (though no names are on the dotted line for the 2017 class yet), and they believe he will win at a higher level than did his predecessor, Mark Richt.
Think “faithful” as synonym for “followers,” because at this point Georgia optimism is faith-based.
The knock on Richt was the perception that he underachieved in recruiting and on-the-field success. The emphasis is on “perception.” Georgia is surrounded by programs which can be attractive to prospects – Alabama and Auburn to the West, Florida and Florida State to the South, Clemson to the East, Tennessee to the North, and even in-state Georgia Tech. Considering the competition, Richt did a decent job of keeping the best talent home.
As for on-the-field results, the only Georgia coach with more wins than Richt was Vince Dooley, who coached 25 years for the Bulldogs and had a record of 201-77-10. In 10 fewer years as Georgia coach, Richt had a record of 145-51.
By percentage, Richt was at 74 per cent, best of any Georgia coach. Dooley was at 71.5 per cent.
In other words, to do better than Richt – as everyone in the Georgia camp expects – Smart has to do pretty well.
Legge brought up one interesting point. From the Georgia perspective, he said, there has been no more “natural” hire than Smart as coach of the Bulldogs.
I told him I’d put Paul Bryant being hired by Alabama in that category, and Steve Spurrier being selected by Florida in the “natural” category. Both, like Smart, were chosen by their alma maters and both were exceptionally successful.
Bryant is the all-time leader in victories while coaching in the SEC with 292 of his wins coming while at Kentucky (60-23-5) and, most notably, at Alabama (232-46-9), while Spurrier has a second-best 206 with South Carolina (86-49) and Florida (122-27-1). In SEC games only, Bryant had a conference-best record 159 wins (22-18-4 at Kentucky, 137-28-5 at Bama) and Spurrier was second with 131 (South Carolina 44-40, Florida 87-14).
Other SEC schools have had successful alumni as head football coaches, including Auburn with Shug Jordan and Tennessee with Phillip Fulmer.
But there have also been those who were not alumni who have been extraordinarily successful in the conference, most notably Robert Neyland (Army) at Tennessee and Nick Saban (Kent State) at LSU and Alabama. Among top winners in the SEC have also been former Alabama coaches Wallace Wade (who left Bama for Duke before the founding of the SEC and who was a Brown graduate), Frank Thomas (Notre Dame), and Gene Stallings (Texas A&M).
Other SEC schools with very successful non-alumni include Ole Miss with John Vaught (TCU), Georgia with Vince Dooley (Auburn), and LSU with Les Miles (Michigan).
Being an alumnus of a school and football program doesn’t guarantee success, as noted by the tenures at Alabama of DuBose, Shula, and J.B. Whitworth.