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The Hope That Abides: Why I Remain Confident That Kirby Smart Will Succeed In Athens

Florida v Georgia Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

You may recall that Saturday evening in the wake of Georgia’s resounding loss to the Florida Gators I opined that I am now more confident in Kirby Smart that I was upon his hiring.

Some of you, quite understandably, think that is nuts. Some of you even emailed me to tell me how nuts it is. Some of those folks used shockingly colorful language. But only one of you cast aspersions on my lineage, and only one said something horrible about my dog. So we’re calling it a win.

One emailer, who shall remain nameless, however sent a thorough email which listed some specific shortcomings of the 2016 Georgia Bulldogs, and set out his conclusions. I thought his was a very reasonable position. In essence, he believes that Georgia must show significant progress in 2017 for Kirby Smart to avoid the hot seat, and must be back to Mark Richt era respectability (I think that’s 9 to 10 wins) by 2018.

But principally, he simply could not imagine how I could have more confidence in 4-4 Smart than 0-0 Smart. I am reproducing verbatim in this space my explanation. Feel free to tell me that I am nuts, but please lay off my dog. He has done nothing to you.

Hank (Not emailer’s real name, so far as I know),

Thanks for your email. I actually responded to your question in aroundabout fashion in the comments to the post you're referencing. Believe me, I understand that my read on things isn't exactly mainstream among the fanbase. I'd like to elaborate a little in hopes of, if not converting you to my opinion, convincing you that I have not had a cerebral event of some sort.

No one in his right mind is "happy" with this season. Having said that, so far I've seen a team that's consistently playing 12-14 true freshmen and has only 9 seniors on the entire 44 man two-deep be competitive in all but one game while installing a new offense and defense. Also, it's worth noting that the 2016 dumpster fire offense(TM) is currently producing 23.3 points per game, a whole 3.0 per game fewer than last year's 2015 dumpster fire. This despite playing, in aggregate, much better defenses.

Watch the 2015 Missouri game. Then the 2016 Missouri game. I assure you, Jim Chaney is doing at least as much with what he has as Brian Schottenheimer did. I also have been pleased with the things I've seen him do to try to get what he can out of what he has.

Sure I would quibble with playcalling here and there. I did that with Mike Bobo and he was statistically the most effective Offensive Coordinator Athens has ever seen. But I’ve also found that there’s really no effective play to be called when you can't block anyone.

And right now we can’t block anyone. I think that's partially the guys doing the blocking, who are the best we have right now, and are working their butts off. But none of them is Arkansas All-American Denver Kirkland, for example, who Sam Pittman developed into a star. Solomon Kindley and Ben Cleveland could be, they just aren't yet.

Knock down a pass against Tennessee, make a couple of plays against Vandy, and this team is 6-2 and labeled "ahead of schedule." In that light the Nicholls State game goes from "very nearly the worst loss in program history" to "overlooking a weak opponent."*

But this is a pretty classic example of why Nick Saban talks about "process" versus"results." Results are deceptive. Last year's Georgia team won ten games thanks to some close calls and a manageable schedule. But it frankly wasn't much better than this one. It lost to a worse Tennessee team and a worse Florida team, and did so more decisively than this season's iteration. But for a victory over a checked-out Steve Spurrier, it would have had no memorable conference wins.

I would rather be 6-2 than 4-4. But the difference between the two is slight and at this point basically irrelevant, save as an ego booster. I don't know if you're an investor, but if you are I can offer ananalogy we can both understand. Some companies pull sales forward and put off big capital investments to make their financial numbers look better in the short term. Others make big, upfront investments in people, equipment, and research in order to assure long term growth. Kirby Smart is doing the latter. It's immensely painful in the short term. But it is necessary

I watched the 2015 UGA/Alabama game in the pouring rain. Thanks to DawgSports Editor Emeritus T. Kyle King I actually had better seats than I am accustomed to or deserve. I saw what Kirby Smart saw, but which only he has the responsibility of fixing. A team that's softer, weaker, and less football-savvy than the team it (and everyone else) hopes to pass in the SEC pecking order.

I am not saying Kirby Smart will turn the Red and Black into Tuscaloosa East. I believe in numbers, and the numbers dictate that the odds of doing so are squarely against him. They're against every single college football coach in America. But as an old quotation of dubious attribution goes "If you reach for the stars, even if you don't come up with one, you won't end up with a handful of mud, either."

Georgia has been close to where it wants to be, intermittently at least, for a long time. Mark Richt produced teams good enough to play for national championships on at least three occasions in my estimation, and that is extraordinary. He does not get enough credit for it. But his 2014 and 2015 teams were perhaps further removed in composition than time from those 2002, 2007, and 2012 teams.

At a certain point you become what you do. Georgia had become a 38-10 home loss to Alabama that wasn't even as close as the score indicates. That's about what Georgia was in 2008. And Conrad Aiken is the only one who gets adulation for living life in great circles that end up back where they started.

I am more confident in Kirby Smart than I was when he was hired because he has demonstrated to me that he is willing to forego results in the short term in order to build a team that should be better in 2017, and could be really, really, really good in 2018 if all goes according to plan. Because he clearly has a plan, it is a good plan, and I think that it is really the only plan capable of getting Georgia where it wants to go, even if I am less than sure that it will work.

Thank you again for reaching out. Incidentally, I intend to use this email as the basis for a post on Dawg Sports later today, omitting your name and any identifying information, obviously. You are far from the only person with reasonable questions about our current situation. Have a great day. Go 'Dawgs!---MD

  • That Nicholls State team by the way is currently 4-4 and a close loss to Sam Houston State away from leading the Southland Conference. Not exactly 2005 Texas, but not the collection of octogenarians and kindergartenears they've been portrayed as, either.