Guerry Clegg

Guerry Clegg: Georgia's Kirby Smart dealing with 'What's Important Now'

University of Georgia NCAA college football head coach Kirby Smart speaks during a press conference in Athens, Ga., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (Richard Hamm/Athens Banner-Herald via AP) MAGS OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
University of Georgia NCAA college football head coach Kirby Smart speaks during a press conference in Athens, Ga., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (Richard Hamm/Athens Banner-Herald via AP) MAGS OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT AP

Now that Kirby Smart has just one 80-hour a week job instead of two, it might seem as though his work load is substantially lighter. Far from it. True, Smart might not be working two phones or flying back and forth from Tuscaloosa to Athens.

But all those hours spent preparing for Alabama's national championship run have merely been redirected to holding together his first signing class as Georgia's new head coach.

Smart might be a rookie head coach. But he knows what is the foundation of all programs. The acronym he borrowed from Nick Saban is WIN -- What's Important Now.

His first priority was assembling a coaching staff. Time will tell, but it seems as though Smart hit a few home runs. Sam Pittman is widely regarded as one of the top offensive line coaches in college football. Hiring Pittman played a key role in keeping quarterback Jacob Eason on board. Mel Tucker did an excellent job with Alabama's secondary last season. Many Bama fans wanted him to replace Smart as defensive coordinator. Hiring Dell McGee, the Kendrick grad and former Carver coach, was a smart move. The Bulldogs have lost their footing a bit right here in the Bi-City area.

What's important now? Recruiting.

"No down time for me," Smart said. "Every hour I've got, ev

ery waking moment we'll be on the phone with a prospect, with support staff, with some kind of role player, to make this place as good as we can."

Smart is unabashed about his goals for his alma mater. They match up with the expectations that led to Mark Richt getting fired despite being one of the most successful coaches in college football over the past 15 years. Those expectations are not to win 10 games. They are to be that team celebrating after the national championship game.

"To be great, to win championships, to do things the right way, to go to the SEC championship, to win the SEC East," Smart said. "When you build all those things with building blocks, you focus on what it takes to get you there, not the actual result."

Athletics Director Greg McGarity and some of the deep pocket boosters wanted a coaching change because they felt the program had grown stale. Smart was careful to not throw Richt under the bus. But does understand the expectations. They do not exceed his own.

"I think culture is very important any time you take on a new job," he said. "Not that anything was completely broken before, but this culture has to be created by Coach Smart and Coach Smart's staff. We're doing that right now. We're doing that in the weight room on day one. We're going to make sure every kid understands that. It's a tough, competitive culture. But it's going to be done through our eyes, our window. That's what we want to establish in the offseason. That's the point of the offseason -- create toughness. To make kids be comfortable being uncomfortable. I think that's important for them to have to do. I had to do it as a coach. I think when you step outside that box it makes you a better person. We're going to challenge these kids to be comfortable being uncomfortable."

The demands of preparing for the playoffs and recruiting pre-empted learning much about his new team. But reading between the lines, it's obvious that Smart already has a good idea of where the Bulldogs must improve. And it's not just at quarterback. It's depth on both lines and finding more playmakers at receiver, especially with Malcolm Mitchell gone.

"You always want to be able to run the football, because you can't win football games if you can't run it," he said. "If you can only run it, you will lose football games, too."

Here's the irony. Richt was fired because it was perceived that his teams seldom played up to their enormous talent. But the fact is the last few years there has been a drop in talent. It didn't help, either, that some of the Bulldogs' best offensive players were lost to injury or suspension.

But to be clear, Smart did not inherit a top-ten roster. He knows that.

"There's a lot of areas to improve on," he said. "We've got to improve on defense, too. All that can be done through recruiting and in the weight room, and that's what we're focused on right now."

This is a team that, with better quarterback play, could rebound into the top 15 and win the watered-down East. Who stands in their way? Florida? The Gators have their own quarterback problems.

Tennessee? For sure, the Volunteers will start the season as the division favorites. But let's not forget that Georgia was a play or two away from beating Tennessee in Knoxville -- and that was without Nick Chubb. They play in Athens this year, and Chubb should be back close to full speed.

The Dawgs replace Alabama with Ole Miss, which will be rebuilding. They open with North Carolina, which proved to be a bit of a mirage last season, plus the Tar Heels must replace their quarterback.

All of that is a long way off.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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