The move completes a whirlwind week that involved firing former head coach Mark Richt last Sunday. Smart appeared to be the only candidate the Bulldogs were serious about pursuing.
"It's an honor and privilege to return home to the University of Georgia and my home state," said Smart in a statment. "I'm deeply appreciative of the faith President Morehead, Greg McGarity and the Athletic Board Executive Committee have demonstrated in asking me to lead one of the truly great college football programs in the country. I also want to thank Coach Saban. I have been fortunate to spend 11 seasons with him as my mentor and have learned a tremendous amount from him as a coach and teacher. I'm honored and excited for the opportunity at Georgia and promise high energy, effort every day, and hard work every minute on the part of all our coaches, staff and student-athletes."
An assistant at Alabama for the last nine years, Smart inherits at Bulldog program that has not won an SEC title in a decade. However, the Bulldogs have won an average of ten games the last four years.
Winning big games will likely be the key to Smart’s success. That appears to be what cost Richt his job. The Bulldogs were 0-2 against ranked foes this season, and while Georgia was 4-1 against ranked teams last season, another loss to Florida cost the Bulldogs the 2014 SEC East.
Smart is known as a relentless recruiter, and he has some work to do in oder to keep Georgia’s current class together. The Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 4 in Scout’s national recruiting rankings. Georgia has only finished in the top five in national recruiting once (2015) in the last four recruiting classes. Meanwhile, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee have done on multiple occasions in that time.
If the Bulldogs can manage to sign a top five class this season it would be the first time since 2008-2009 that Georgia has signed back-to-back top five classes. Georgia used those back-to-back classes to win back-to-back SEC East titles with players like Aaron Murray, Marlon Brown, Shawn Williams, Chris Burnette, DeAngelo Tyson, Cordy Glenn, Tavarres King, Brandon Boykin and Cornelius Washington.
Smart will try to wrap up 2016 recruiting by keeping 5-star quarterback Jacob Eason in the fold. Eason could factor in what was not only a disappointing but confusing handling of quarterbacks in 2015. Georgia started two quarterbacks and played three signal callers in regular game action this fall. Faton Bauta, who started during the 27-3 loss that was likely Richt’s last chance to save the season and his job, announced that he would transfer over the weekend. That leaves Georgia with only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster entering the bowl game.
Signing Eason seems impressive to Smart’s future success at Georgia - no matter if that’s 2016 or years later.
Smart’s carer as head man starts off with a bang. The Bulldogs kickoff the 2016 season against ACC runners-up North Carolina. Even with the disappointing 9-3 regular season record in 2015, Smart will inherit a program that will likely be ranked coming into the fall and considered one of the favorites, along with Tennessee and Florida, to win the SEC East.
The 2016 schedule appears as challenging as ever for the Bulldogs. After the game with North Carolina, the Bulldogs should beat Nicholls State before traveling to Missouri and Ole Miss. October will likely make or break (as it did this season) the season. Critical games with Tennessee, at South Carolina, Vanderbilt and against Florida in Jacksonville will deicide the Bulldogs’ fate. November features only one road game - at Kentucky. The Bulldogs close the season with three consecutive home games - Auburn, Louisiana and Georgia Tech.
The SEC Championship Game, with Smart has coached in six (5 at Alabama; 1 at Georgia) times, will be held at the Georgia Dome on December 3, 2016.