I was able to watch the official press conference last night. It’s not often that we see a head coaching change, much less one that has been this dramatic. So it seems appropriate to share some thoughts.
I say it was a dramatic change because a week ago we were coming to grips with the firing of a coach who spent 15 seasons elevating the program. And a week later we’re welcoming home a former captain who has been waiting patiently on the right time and opportunity to “come home”. As I contemplated that it struck me again how much Kirby Smart in December 2015 reminds me of Mark Richt in December 2000; about 40 years old, beautiful family, longtime successful assistant coming from a program considered to be the gold standard for all others, and more than a little awestruck by the moment.
Before I get into what Coach Smart actually said (and there was plenty), it was clear he was a mixture of nervous and excited. While I know some of that is because of how Nick Saban runs his program, limiting assistant coaches’ exposure to the cameras and voice recorders, it appeared to me that most of the nervous excitement just came naturally from the moment. As a result, I found him to be honest, genuine, and emotionally balanced between feeling pride for how he got to this point and pride in the direction he wants to take Georgia football.
“....relentless energy and passion…”
I don’t recall the question that prompted Coach Smart to use that phrase, but it’s the only time I looked away from the screen to write down a note. As I watched his demeanor and his mannerisms, his energy and passion was apparent. As I observed the times he took a moment to choose words carefully and how he weighed those times against when he charged right in with an answer, his energy and passion was evident. As I reflected on his career that had lead up to this moment, his energy and passion was obvious.
Smart spoke with emotion, specifically when recognizing his family, and he spoke directly, specifically when asked about his vision. Of course there were the baited questions that tried to shine a flashlight on administration’s role in staff decisions, but there were some really good questions that helped Smart address how he’ll manage the next month with two hats and how he’ll handle recruiting during the program’s time of transition. And even when it was clear he was tired of standing up there and was ready to hit the road, he took more questions and coupled them with direct, honest answers.
Coach Smart won’t coach in his first game for many months, but I hold no doubts that he’s ready to be a head coach. Any questions I have are now more along the lines of how he’ll runs things differently than his mentor. I think it’s clear Smart will be involved in all aspects of coaching and game preparation, just like Saban. And I think he’ll grow tired of taking questions during media sessions because he’s constantly thinking of other things he could be doing to get ready for the next game, just like Saban.
But you couldn’t watch that introductory press conference yesterday without thinking how much different the two men are. One of the interesting long range storylines will be how Kirby Smart branches away from Nick Saban’s tree. However, you also couldn’t watch the press conference and realize just how much Kirby Smart has learned from the men he’s played and coached under. He spent most of his time coaching under Saban. And I think that’s where the “relentless passion and energy” nugget comes from.
You see, it will be the relentless part that is key. It’s the relentless part I hope everyone heard because that’s the part we’ve been missing. I’m not saying Coach Richt or his predecessors weren’t goal-driven and hardworking. Not in the least. But the men who wrote their checks weren’t constantly pursuing perfection. The support for the common goal hasn’t always been abundant or even on the same page. That complacency is no longer acceptable. McGarity lead the search, President Morehead nodded his agreement, and the Board voted their unanimous approval. Everyone is on board.
Kirby Smart has spent his lifetime persistently chasing a dream. And his dream doesn’t end at yesterday’s podium. It’s just beginning there.