UGA made a decision to part ways with longtime head coach Mark Richt on Sunday. Given the recent shortcomings of the program, this isn’t totally surprising. However, what is surprising are the rumors that UGA would replace Richt and his long track record of success with current Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
This seems illogical.
The credential most often cited in Smart’s favor is that he played at UGA. Why would that possibly matter? Eleven head coaches have won the SEC Championship game, and only three played college football at the school they led to an SEC title. It hasn’t seemed to hurt Nick Saban that he didn’t play at Alabama, nor did it hinder Urban Meyer that he didn’t play at Florida. Smart’s coaching abilities wouldn’t be enhanced simply because he was coming to work for his alma mater.
If UGA does hire Smart, it also would be taking a tremendous risk on a guy with no previous head coaching experience. That hasn’t worked much in the SEC. Of those 11 head coaches who won the SEC Championship game, only three had no previous head coaching experience before taking a job in the league. Of course, one of those coaches was Richt, who won his first SEC title in 2002.
So, it’s fair to ask: Why couldn’t UGA find success with another coach in his first job? The best answer is that the UGA program has grown tremendously since Richt took the job in 2001 — mostly because of Richt, by the way. Back then, someone else’s coordinator was the best UGA could hope to hire. That is no longer true. A coach like Richt, who won nine or more games in a season with regularity, should only be replaced by a coach who can be reasonably assumed to do better. Smart doesn’t offer that assurance.
And finally, if UGA hires Smart as its next head coach, it is ignoring one of the most significant trends in college football: defensive coaches haven’t successfully made the transition to head coach as often as offensive coaches have.
Of the eight most recently hired coaches in the SEC, five had offensive backgrounds and three had defensive backgrounds. The five offensive-minded head coaches have combined to go 169-98. That’s a winning percentage of .632. However, the defensive-minded head coaches have only gone 36-61. That’s just a .371 winning percentage. The reason for this disparity is obvious. College football has evolved to be about innovative offenses, which means offensive minds are simply more valuable than defensive minds.
The likely retort to all of these points is that Smart is different from other coaches with no previous experience and those with defensive backgrounds because he has been working with Nick Saban. That may be true, but that was also once true for Will Muschamp, who worked with Saban at LSU and the Miami Dolphins. And it goes without saying that Muschamp’s time with Saban didn’t prevent him from being an unmitigated disaster as Florida’s coach.
Of course, there is a chance Smart would be a better head coach than Muschamp, and maybe Smart would be better than most defensive-minded assistants with no previous experience. He is, after all, a serious coaching candidate for a reason.
However, it needs to be said that for a program moving on from Richt because it thinks it can do better, UGA can do better than Smart as well.
- Todd Gurley had a strong reaction to the news of Richt’s departure
- Florida coach Jim McElwain had an interesting quote about Smart
- Another popular coaching candidate reportedly is “highly interested” in UGA
- Current players and members of the national media reacted to the Richt news
- A pair of reported SEC coaching targets are off the market
- What does Mark Richt news mean for Jacob Eason?
- Richt’s firing confirms what many believed: It was time for a change
- How Georgia players heard the Richt news
- Leading candidates to replace Richt at Georgia
- UGA targets react to Mark Richt’s firing
- Greg McGarity’s career will be defined by his first major hire
- A small vigil held outside of Butts-Mehre for Richt