Posted: 5:00 am Monday, August 29th, 2016
By Jay Black
ATHENS – Ray Goff knows his place in Georgia football history and knows it’s not the greatest.
“We had good players, we just didn’t have a good coach,” the 61-year-old says through that slow aww-sucks Moultrie drawl.
Bulldog Nation hasn’t thanked Goff for much since he was fired in 1995 (expect for maybe buying and spreading a bunch of Zaxby’s around the state), but right now many are thanking him for bringing UGA’s newest head coach to Athens.
“He’s a bouncin’ little ball,” said Goff. “He’s high energy.”
If we knew about the internet in 1995 like we do in 2016, and if we knew it could hang a bunch of recruiting stars on high school kids, Kirby Smart wouldn’t have had five of them.
He was a defensive back and he was the son of a high school coach in Bainbridge, Georgia. That’s pretty much all Goff needed to know when he started recruiting Smart to come to Athens before the 1995 season.
“I saw Kirby many years before I recruited him,” Goff told me. “Right or wrong, if a high school coach’s son was any sort of a player we were going to try and sign him because we felt like they knew what it was about. They had been around it since they were born, with their fathers and they were driven. It’s just something — if we had a scholarship — we did what we could to help them out. But (the kids) helped us more than we helped them, I promise you.”
Smart certainly helped out Georgia, to an extent Goff admits to me, he didn’t see coming. Not the biggest, and not the fastest, teams thought they could throw on Kirby. Instead they put him in the record books. Smart intercepted 13 passes in his career, now good enough for fifth all-time. He was all-SEC first team his senior year. Smart helped his school out plenty, but Goff wasn’t around to see it. He was canned after Smart’s freshman year.
And it’s been since 1995 that the Bulldogs have gone outside the hedges to find their leader (yes Bryan McClendon did it for last year’s bowl game after Mark Richt was let go, but he was just filling in).
So come Saturday in the Georgia Dome, Smart will become the seventh Georgia alumni to lead his school out onto the field as the full time head coach.
“I’m excited about the change and I’m excited to have a Georgia guy here,” says Goff. “No offense to Mark Richt or Jim Donnan. But I’m forever whose at Georgia.”
Before Goff was hired, Johnny Griffith was the last UGA man to coach this team and that was in 1963. Griffith died forty years later.
So Goff is the only man alive who knows what Smart is going through and will have to deal with, trying take his alma mater to a place it hasn’t been in decades.
“It is tough,” said Goff. “Because you’re feelings are so great for the University and you want success for the University. You want to do what you think is right for the players, the fans and the alumni.”
Goff doesn’t hang around the athletic program much and has only spoken with his former pupil a couple of times after Smart was given the job. But his advice isn’t very complicated.
“It’s not rocket science,” says Goff. “You’re a football coach and that’s what you need to be. Don’t try to be a politician, take care of the kids and do what you think is right.”
Despite all the flack Goff got while he was in Athens (and that he’s the occasional punchline afterwards), he says it was still worth taking the job after Vince Dooley retired in 1989.
“I think it was,” said Goff. “I can’t explain it, but I’d do it again. There are things I’d do differently, but I’d do it again.”
Goff won’t get that chance of course, but that little DB he signed more than 20 years ago, just trying to do someone a favor, will be at the helm on Saturday.
“Kirby is going to do a great job. I’m proud of him.”