But Can Kirby Coach?

HOOVER, Ala. - There’s been so much good about Kirby Smart so far… that’s often the case with first-year coaches.

Perhaps his crowning achievement was getting UGA faithful to buy into their imaginations again by filling up Sanford Stadium to the brim at G Day in April.

"We had 93,000 hungry Dawg fans at the Spring Game," Kirby said today at SEC Media Days.

What we don’t yet know about Kirby is what he will be like on game day. That’s the real risk in hiring an assistant coach to be the head man - he’s never done it before. Mark Richt’s flaws didn’t take long to surface - the run call at the end of the 2001 Auburn game showed he could make mistakes in big moments. 

But Richt also proved that he could elevate the program to where it hadn’t been in so long with his cool play calling in Knoxville earlier that fall. The Bulldogs hadn’t won in Knoxville in two decades.

What will Kirby’s defining moment be? 

Surely it won’t be naming a starting quarterback for the opening game. Surely it won’t be announcing that Nick Chubb or Sony Michel will return from injury to play. Kirby’s career in Athens so far has been a good one, but he’s never coached a game. That’s when reality sets in. So far the young head man has pretty well made all the right moves, but UGA isn’t going to be undefeated in 2016. So what and when will we know just what we’ve got in Kirby?

The first game against North Carolina? Unlikely. At what point has the opening game of a season defined a season? What UGA looks like at the start of that game might be light years from where it winds up in November. 

The road trip to Ole Miss? Maybe. The Rebels can certainly score - and that will be a major challenge for the Bulldogs. Really, they should lose that game.

Hosting the Vols in October? There are only so many games in a season that can actually define what sort of year you have. UGA usually has about three, and this season the Orange may well be that game. The experts in Vegas say that game is a pick 'em right now. 

The Gators? That game always defines a season. How often does UGA have a “bad” season when they beat the Gators? 2013? 

Auburn and Tech in Athens? Neither team seem like real threats to be good right now, but both have shown the ability to be good without anyone expecting it (Auburn in 2010, 2013; Tech in 2009, 2014). 

Again, it will be interesting to see what the real Kirby is when the band is playing. So far he’s been able to pretty well control the process. Even when he’s not controlled it completely (recruiting), he’s done pretty well for himself. 

I want to see what happens when UGA gets down ten points, or loses a game. Will the program go into a shell. Kirby told me earlier this year that he’s going to have to be himself while he’s coaching. He repeated that today amidst a barrage of questions about trying to be Nick Saban. What we don’t yet know is who that person is, and how he will be able to adjust on the fly.

Only then will we really know what reality is with Kirby.


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