Critics Are Missing Kirby Smart's Vision

ATHENS - The first graduates from UGA’s new medical school begin practicing medicine next year.

That’s after nearly a decade of planning on Georgia’s part. But the medical school at UGA (EDIT: I've been contacted by folks in Augusta making clear that UGA doesn't have a medical school; However, a "medical partnership" with Augusta University... take that for what it is worth. There's a healthy portion of folks {in Athens no less} who consider that semantics) will need at least another half century to find its footing in the competitive world of medical schools and research funding. 

No matter the delay, someone had the vision to get a medical school started at UGA after centuries of not having one. Only a handful of flagship universities in the US don’t have medical schools - Georgia is no longer on that list. 

Before the medical (and engineering) school started at UGA, the institution was “competing” with the likes of Michigan, Florida, UCLA, Virginia and North Carolina to be considered a top public school. I should say that UGA wasn’t competing because it couldn’t - not with out medical (or engineering for that matter; certainly not without both). 

Then someone had enough vision to start a medical school in Athens - to the dismay and anger of many in Augusta, where Medical College of Georgia is located. 

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I can say this for the first time in a very long time: Someone in UGA’s athletic department has vision, too. His name is Kirby Smart. And while Kirby won’t be starting a medical school any time soon, and his time frame for success is much shorter than a half a century, he’s put UGA’s football program on the road to success the likes of which we haven’t seen in a decade for sure… perhaps longer. 

We can get caught up in the details. Big wins; bad losses; stupid stuff that happens; glorious things that happen. But the trajectory of UGA under Kirby Smart hasn’t changed because of the embarrassing loss at Ole Miss - no matter how embarrassing it was. And it didn’t change after the win over North Carolina - not matter how euphoric that might have felt with Nick Chubb owning another ACC foe. 

Four games into a new season with a new coach and new quarterback, we’ve seen the wheels fall off once. We’ve seen a win over a ranked team; a loss on the road to a ranked team; three come-from-behind wins in the second half; and a disappointing home win. 

Needless to say its not been the standard start to a season. 

If I were judging Kirby Smart on the first four games of the 2016 season I could find a lot wrong, and much that’s gone very right. The offensive line and blowout at Ole Miss are the two worst things. Replacing Greyson Lambert at QB with Jacob Eason and the come-from-behind wins over Carolina and Mizzou are the three best things. 

But I’m not judging Kirby or where UGA will go with him by this stretch of games. I’m not, and you shouldn’t either. It is easy enough to find where Kirby is already being judged as a disappointment, or a future failure… usually it’s in the form of a snarky tweet from the usual suspects. 

That’s predictable, but its also a mistake. 

I'm watching the games - obviously - but what I’m watching closer is where Kirby is trying to take UGA. The results of this program (Ole Miss should never beat UGA 45-14 in any sport let alone football), are important in the moment for sure, but Kirby has a vision for where UGA should be now, where it should be in the future and what it will take to get there. For the record: No one ever said this was going to be pretty. More than anything else that matters… and this is important… Kirby is willing to do something about it.

This is the sort of thing that has been sorely lacking not just in the football program or athletic department at Georgia, but the academic institution itself. Even with the new medical school, the University of Georgia is still trying to figure out if it should compete at a national level as a major research institution or just churn out the top in-state students who will go out and make this state a better place. 

Vision has been missing there, quite frankly, too. Kirby doesn’t have that problem. His situation, obviously, is much simpler. 

Still, vision has been missing in the athletic department and football for some time now. Kirby understands how important recruiting is to any football program - it is the single biggest reason you win or lose. So with his recruiting future more in front of him than behind him, Kirby turned G Day into a can’t-miss event; not just a scrimmage. As stupid as it sounds, that might be the reason I think he knows what he’s doing more than anything else. That happened after he hosted Jacob Eason, the guy who would eventually be his starting QB for the season, and other recruits in a sky suite on the 50-yards line in Sanford Stadium for his official visit. But Kirby knew that he had to set the tone for his program in those first two months of recruiting. And he did. 

None of those things had ever been done before. That took change, which came as a result of his vision on where this program should go. It took selling himself, UGA and a future that very few people have been able to imagine in Athens. Kirby gets it. That wasn’t obvious when Ole Miss was bludgeoning UGA 45-0 in the 3rd quarter last Saturday, or when Nichols State took the lead in the 3rd quarter earlier in September. But I can assure you that he gets it - wins or losses be damned this season. 

Then again, I live in a world (recruiting) where we can see the future coming (for the most part). 

I saw what Kirby was able to do at Alabama in taking players from Georgia like Alvin Kamara, Rueben Foster, Devonta Bolton, Chance Warmack, Ronald Carswell, Blake Sims, Austin Shepard, Xzavier Dickson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Kenyan Drake, Tyren Jones (to name a few) and get them to win with the Tide. Most of those players were high-level players, but some were developed into players (Shepard, Tomlinson and Carswell). That UGA signed only two of the in-state Scout 100 players in 2013 is killing them right now. That UGA has commitments or leads with seven of the in-state Scout 100 players in 2017 is all you need to know about Kirby.  

Those of us who live in this world know and understand that in recruiting anything or nothing at all can be the reason a player signs with a school. And who you sign is a direct correlation to if you will win or not. The great news for UGA fans is that Kirby is killing recruiting right now. Killing it. Remember Alabama? Kirby has taken three former Tide commits (Jake Fromm, Tyler Simmons and Netori Johnson) from Lord Saban; Bama has taken none from Kirby so far. 

Most folks don’t live in the world of recruiting. Perhaps they are too good for it. Maybe it confuses them. Perhaps they think reporting only happens in press conferences and in games. I know they dismiss it. I guess its too difficult for them to understand. Its a punchline that highlights their ignorance about what fuels college sports. 

I know that because I remember when my industry was dismissed and made fun of. There was and continues to be a fundamental misunderstanding of recruiting works. Now we are led to believe that the same folks who looked down on the world of recruiting not that long ago are recruiting experts, or at least are passing themselves off as such. That most of them, even with shiny new websites, still don’t understand recruiting any better than they did 16 years ago doesn’t mean its less important that it was then or is now.

That they don’t get that is probably the reason why they are missing on why Kirby will likely be a massive success at UGA. 

Recruiting is a difficult minefield to navigate, but there are very few other personalities in this nutty business that get it like he does - like he always has. That will be what elevates him at the end of the day - his passion, determination and recruiting prowess, but more than anything his vision.


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