Georgia hired Scott Cochran today, in a move that sent enough shockwaves through the sport to elicit thoughts from the biggest names in college football media.
This is a SIGNIFICANT loss for Bama and ridiculous coup by Kirby and UGA!— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) February 24, 2020
Is this the first sign of a “changing of the guard” in the SEC??? https://t.co/4AOszAeRqS
I’m sure nothing could go wrong here.
Macondawg has already covered what this move symbolizes, and doesn’t, about where Kirby Smart is philosophically in his tenure while asking how Cochran might or might not fit into the role of Special Teams Coordinator.
I’m here to talk about Kirby Smart the public relations expert.
Nick Saban has famously talked about how little he cares about what the media thinks. You can also throw you, the average fan, onto the list of people he is happy to ignore the feelings of. Saban would have you believe this is the cost of “The Process”- a magical hyper-focused state of mind that hates anything that doesn’t involve the most minute details involved with winning a football game.
In this day and age, college football is a year-round sport. We consume and follow it constantly, and fans dissect the smallest of shifts while formulating the narrative about their favorite team. Long gone are the days where coverage of the season ends in January, picks up for a moment in early February and then begins again at media days in July.
I am 30. Facebook became a thing while I was nearing the end of high-school, but it was only a thing for college kids with a dot edu email address. Twitter became a thing sometime while I was in college in the late 2000’s. Instagram took off in the early 2010’s.
Kirby Smart is 14 years older than me, which makes him young for a major college football coach. Out of the many branches in the Saban coaching tree, Smart is closest thing we have seen to the trunk. Unlike his former boss and mentor, as well as most other college football coaches, he has embraced the fact that we as a society have become mostly prisoners of the now.
He is a master at keeping his program on the front page of college football. Since losing to LSU in the SEC Championship game, a result that had many within the Bulldog Nation screaming that the sky was falling, he has built a tremendous amount of momentum for his program. This is true despite the fact that we’ve only seen his football team take the field once since then.
Following the LSU loss, he talked about how the team needed more talent at wide-receiver. He then went out and signed three receivers in the Top 100 players in the country during December’s early signing period- Arian Smith, Jermaine Burton and Marcus Rosemy. All of those players had thought to be leans to one of Georgia’s rivals at one point in the recruiting cycle. The weekend before, Georgia received commitments from 5-stars Kelee Ringo and Darnell Washington
Smart lost the assistant who was seen as most crucial to Georgia’s success, and was probably most loved by fans, in o-line coach Sam Pittman. Then almost his entire offensive line transferred or left early for the pros. Fans and media members alike wondered what was to become of Georgia’s prized offensive line class, and the future of the program felt in doubt. Within a couple weeks, new coach Matt Luke was bringing energy to the sideline in the Sugar Bowl and ensuring that Georgia’s prized twin tackles, Tate Ratledge and Broderick Jones stayed home come National Signing Day.
Following the Sugar Bowl, fans were happy with a major bowl win, but still worried about the future of the team’s offense under James Coley. Enter Todd Monken, an offensive coordinator good enough that he took a lightly used Brandon Weeden to the verge of a national title.
When the second National Signing Day came around on February 6th, Georgia stayed in the headlines with Jones and Sedrick Van Pran’s signings. Shortly afterward they added the commitment of Brock Vandagriff. The homegrown talent out of Prince Avenue Christian in Athens is the #1 QB in the 2021 class. Losing him to anyone would have ruffled a lot of feathers in the Peach State.
Out of nowhere this afternoon, Smart delivered another surprise. The guy he’s been chasing for four years, Alabama Strength and Conditioning Coach Scott Cochran, is coming to Athens to be Special Teams Coordinator. Cochran is instant energy, and has a reputation for getting the most out of players. In terms of his place in the Alabama culture, Cochran is second only to Saban. He might be a genius at interpersonal motivation. As you can see in the video below, sometimes that looks insane. Either way, it is impossible to be in a room with the man and ignore him.
As far as what he meant to the Alabama program, Cochran was much more than your average strength coach. He’s in those Regions Bank commercials with Nick Saban that you saw all year on the SEC Network. They put his face on the scoreboard during 3rd downs in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Former players have forever pointed to him as the cornerstone of the process. In Tuscaloosa, there was a cult of personality around the man they call, “Coach Yeah.”
Above all, Cochran brings Georgia energy. After seeing Matt Luke on the sidelines of the Sugar Bowl, that seems to be a theme in Smart’s hires this offseason.
While some on the outside of the Georgia fan base have questioned whether or not fans are starting to sour on Smart after years of elite recruiting and no national championship, moves like this one is why Georgia people are as optimistic as ever about the future of the program. Kirby Smart gives you little morsels and surprises when you least expect it. He keeps the good news coming, and it keeps the program in the headlines.
For Georgia to take Smart, the first person I saw running onto the field after the 2012 SEC Championship, and turn him back from the dark side of the force was a good feeling. Having him bring Cochran, the man who served as the prophetic pallbearer to Georgia’s 2008 season, to Athens is borderline cathartic.
Kirby has always had a flair for the dramatic, but if Georgia goes on to win a national title in the next few seasons we may look back on this hire as the spiritual cleanse that smudged the final demons out of Georgia’s program.
The tweet from Herbstreit was one of dozens this afternoon expressing the same sentiment.
Scott Cochran might be the biggest hit to a Nick Saban Alabama staff we have seen. Massive loss. Goes much further than Strength & Conditioning.— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) February 24, 2020
Despite what Alabama fans on Twitter will tell you, losing Cochran hurts the Tide. That this might be the first true shift in the Saban dynasty is now perception.
Smart knows that perception helps fan morale. It helps donations and ticket sales. And above all it helps recruiting, the lifeblood of any college football program.
In the year 2020, all the major players have great facilities and great pitches to give recruits. In courting a generation that has grown up knowing nothing different than the “prisoner of the moment” mentality, this matters. There’s thousands of people on Twitter and Facebook or Instagram and TikTok right now that are discussing the sport. Teams are either trending up or down. There’s no in-between.
Kirby Smart's offseason:— Brooks Austin (@BrooksAustinSI) February 24, 2020
Pittman (OUT) - Matt Luke (IN)
Fountain (OUT) - Scott Cochran (IN)
Added Todd Monken, Buster Faulkner, oh and the nation's top-ranked recruiting class. pic.twitter.com/VbsQFCjB8c
Barring anything seismic, much of college football will continue to have the perception that Kirby Smart’s program is on its way towards usurping the Tide. On September 19th in Tuscaloosa, the Cold War between Georgia and Alabama will turn hot again. Only then will we know what reality looks like, but for the next 208 days I fully expect Kirby Smart, college football’s greatest public relations person, to keep Georgia Football on everyone’s mind.