UGA’s era of unbridled optimism gets real 

Posted: 11:04 am Friday, September 2nd, 2016

By Jay Black


The Kirby Smart era begins on Saturday in the Georgia Dome

Finally. We can all stop talking.

The longest, most active, most interesting and most annoying off-season in Georgia football history is over. We finally have a football game.

We begin our quest to determine if the hopes and dreams of the Bulldog Nation are just that, or those hopes will actually be grounded in some fact that things will change.

It won’t happen at all once. But the process begins in the Georgia Dome against North Carolina.

Kirby Smart here’s your official Nike coach’s shirt and visor. You’re the man now.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Saturday at 5:30 p.m. is one of the biggest openers in the history of the program. Partly because of all the attention that has led up to his game for a good nine months. When Mark Richt was hired before the 2001 season there was no Twitter machine and the internet was a shell of its monstrous self (every knucklehead like me didn’t have a blog in 2001.  Some knuckleheads did, but not all). Georgia fans were well informed, but every little detail and speculation of every move of the program was not published in duplicates.

But this is a watershed point in the program because we clearly know now what the expectation is for the coach of the University of Georgia.

Raise trophy over head in five years or else. And that trophy better not have the Belk logo on it.

Athletic director Greg McGarity made this point clear when the second winningest coach in school history was fired for being good, but not great anymore. For his teams always seem to run off the road when the path curved just a little bit.

The school’s greatest coach even admitted this much to me when I met him at his home earlier this week.

Vince Dooley is the only man alive who knows what it’s like to UGA to a championship (AJC)

“It’s all about winning a championship,” said Vince Dooley. “Maybe not this year or the next year, but certainly within the next few years, that’s what the expectations are.”

Mr. Dooley didn’t say “it would be nice” if Kirby Smart won a title or “win 10 or 11 games every year.” Even the most modest of legends confirms what is clear.

Kirby’s gotta win. Or we will be going through all this again.

The wildest of Dawg fans expect a better version of Nick Saban. The sanest among them demand something better than what was here, because Smart’s pedigree is unmatched.

“I have no doubt about it,” said Dooley when I asked him if Kirby was the right guy. “He’s the guy I would have hired.”

Seems like a pretty good endorsement. Of course, it’s doubtful Mr. Dooley would have said anything different, because Lord knows that quote would get in the newspaper. But, I have no reason not to believe him.

The question for the jury is, how much time does Kirby get? Right now, Smart could run for Governor and win in a landslide. But he’s 0-0. What happens when that second number turns into a one? Or if he loses to North Carolina from the (gulp) ACC? Does panic ensue or will he get a pass?

Coaching changes are hard. The only things that remain the same are the players and the uniform. Teaching young dogs new tricks isn’t always that easy.

Sometimes the results are fantastic. But most of the time you need to give it time.

Remember Nick Saban went 6-6 his first season at Alabama.

Few people in this state have mentally prepared themselves for that sort of season. But it could very well happen. Anything from five wins to 11 wins is in play here (I’m going 10-2 by the way, losses to Ole Miss and Auburn. Don’t ask me why). The only things that would surprise me this year is a historically bad season or a historically good one.

But Kirby Smart will be expected to make history while he’s here. To do something that only one person alive has been able to do is awfully hard.

So maybe it’s worth cutting the guy some slack if he doesn’t have all on the answers after his first day on the job.

Because creating something special takes a little bit of time.