It has been more than 50 years since Fran Tarkenton played quarterback for UGA, but he is as invested in Bulldogs football as ever. So when the program hired Kirby Smart to replace Mark Richt, the NFL Hall of Famer had plenty to say.
“I think it was a brilliant, great, right move to do,” Tarkenton said. “We needed a fresh voice, a new voice.”
But Tarkenton believes Smart is more than a new voice for Georgia. Even though Smart will be taking the reins as head coach for the first time in his career, Tarkenton, a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, believes the former Alabama assistant is more than ready. When it comes to that preparedness, Tarkenton pointed to Smart’s career with Alabama — working as an assistant to coach Nick Saban for nine years and being a part of four national championship teams — as a major factor.
“That doesn’t make him a great coach, but it shows him a model,” he said. “We all learn from great mentors. He’s had great mentors, great examples.”
There’s no denying that under the mentorship of Saban, Smart soared. In 2009, he became the first ever Alabama assistant coach to win the Broyles Award for the top assistant coach in college football. But there is reasonable concern that it might not translate to success as a head coach. How much of Saban’s magic will rub off on Smart?
“I don’t think Saban has magic,” Tarkenton said. “He’s a tireless worker, he’s put in the hours, the days, the years of really understanding and working football. There’s no shortcut to success in any part of life. And if you’re going to be a college football coach, that’s a pretty demanding job, time wise and work wise, it’s multi-faceted. (Smart) probably already had that work ethic, but he got a really good idea of the type of organization, type of work ethic and type of leadership model that he’s had in Saban that I think could not have been a better model.”
It would be hard to argue with Tarkenton on that. Who better to lead the resurgence in Athens than a man who studied under the greatest college coach of his time? If you ask Tarkenton, there’s nobody he’d rather have at the helm next season.
“I think he’s just exactly what we needed,” he said. “I think the whole Dawg Nation will rally around him.
“I couldn’t have been happier.”