About seven years ago, the University of Georgia decided to leave former head coach Mark Richt in search of a new face to represent the program. That decision then led to the hiring of former Georgia player and then-Alabama defense coordinator Kirby Smart.
Since then, Georgia has quickly risen to the top of college football. The Bulldogs have won five division titles, one conference championship, appeared in two national title fights and were crowned national champions a season ago. Smart currently holds an overall record of 77-15 and 48-9 in conference play. His team is also one win away from posting the program’s second consecutive undefeated regular season, in what would be a first in program history.
Clearly, Smart has accomplished a lot in just seven seasons with Georgia. He was brought to Athens to help improve the program and take the next step. His accomplishments alone are admired by many, but what makes his Georgia run even more impressive is the amount of changes he’s had to endure and adapt to over the past seven seasons.
One of the first hurdles that Smart had to overcome was the introduction of the transfer portal. Players have always had the privilege of changing schools, but the transfer portal offered a lot more freedom than a transfer. They could enter the portal at any time, which allowed them to start discussions with other programs across the country, and teams were also given the opportunity to fill roster gaps with veteran college football players, as opposed to a high school athlete who is fresh vom Trail might not be finished for a season or two.
With the introduction of the transfer portal, roster management also became a huge factor. Teams had to make sure they had room on their roster to accommodate transfers and also introduce a new recruit class. The same goes for players who choose to leave and ensure those spots are filled. However, these changes never stopped Smart’s success.
Just as the programs were getting used to the portal, NIL was introduced. Players who can capitalize on their name, image and likeness aren’t necessarily difficult for a head coach to get used to, but the way that affected the recruitment process was certainly a big change.
Smart came out the gates when he came to Georgia and quickly established himself as one of the best in the business, consistently putting in the top three classes in every single cycle. NIL then presented new challenges and the approach to the programs they needed to pursue when trying to pitch a recruit to select their school. That hasn’t deterred Smart’s success on the trail, however, as he clinched another top class in 2022 and is close to finishing with another next year as well.
Another hurdle Smart had to negotiate was figuring out how to bring down the top dog. The Alabama Crimson Tide. Dubbed one of the greatest of all time, Nick Saban has built a dominant dynasty and before beating them in the national championship, Smart struggled to ride the tide. It wasn’t until he faced Saban for the fifth time that Smart finally celebrated his first win against his former boss on the sport’s biggest stage.
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Saban went through his own growing pains building Alabama, but he never had to figure out how to beat the greatest head coach of all time.
Despite all the changes, all the obstacles that stood in his way, nothing seemed to stop Smart. His team currently sits at number one in the rankings, is the favorite to win the national championship this season and has never shown any form of dropoff despite losing 15 players in the draft.
Smart bringing lasting success to Georgia is impressive in itself. But considering the many changes Smart has had to navigate as head coach and his willingness to adapt to college football’s ever-changing climate, he really stands out from the rest of the pack and has made his run at Georgia so admirable. And that should not go unnoticed.
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