Posted: 10:15 pm Saturday, December 2nd, 2017
By Jay Black
ATLANTA – Two years ago in a building that’s now in ruins, Kirby Smart was the center of the Bulldog universe.
While Alabama was getting set to win another SEC Championship, Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator was set to become the next head coach of the University of Georgia.
It was the worst kept secret in the state. All that was left was for the Crimson Tide to finish their season, which they did in spectacular fashion.
Less than 24 hours after it was over Kirby was to be anointed king of Bulldog Nation.
Two years later, Smart has bestowed upon his subject the riches and glory they were dreaming about.
The Georgia Bulldogs are SEC Champions. Two years ago, they were champions of the TaxSlayer Bowl. I don’t think the latter trophy sits quite as prominently in the case inside the Larry Munson Trophy Room.
“I’m so happy,” said Smart, dripping wet from his Gatorade shower, right after the 28-7 win over Auburn became official. “It’s awesome. For the Dawg Nation. For everybody.”
It is the unbridled joy that Georgia Bulldog fans were hoping for – and some expecting – on December 6th 2015. But the reality sure does feel better than the dream doesn’t it?
Yes it’s certainly not uncommon for a coach to walk out of Atlanta with the SEC hardware in his hand. Obviously UGA fans watched Mark Richt do the same thing in 2002. But the SEC of 15 years ago isn’t quite the same as it is now. Take nothing away from Richt, but 2002 Arkansas isn’t winning the SEC West anymore.
And that’s been the problem.
While this league has been the most dominant it’s ever been, Georgia was left behind. The teams that won the SEC went on to bigger and better things. Alabama won its national championships. Florida got a couple. LSU got theirs. So did the fighting Cam Newtons.
Georgia was left with a few division titles, some bowl swag and a fan base wondering how it got left in the dust.
Now the Dawgs have caught up and they’ve done it faster than I thought they would.
I was clear that I thought Mark Richt deserved the chance to fix what was broken, but I never had any problem with Kirby Smart coming in if Richt didn’t get that opportunity.
I am not surprised that he has pulled this off. I am surprised that he’s done it two years after I watched his Alabama defense leave Florida in the same shape the Georgia Dome is now (by the way, if you want to make yourself sad, walk by the implosion site next week).
But after that day, it didn’t take his players long to realize that the right guy was leading them.
“Yeah, I remember,” said Nick Chubb, with the 2017 SEC Championship hat on his head. “(I was) happy the first day he came and spoke to us. He was busy with Alabama winning the championship, and he came in, and he just looked exhausted. We’re like, man, what’s this man been up to?”
Kirby Smart has been a man in a hurry ever since.
“The first time he came up to the meeting and then especially like the first practice we had,” said Roquan Smith, the SEC Championship Game MVP. “Just knowing the way he carried himself, high energy, and just the things he says, and he actually backs it up with his actions. He’s an awesome guy.”
Awesome is one way to describe it.
It has been asked a lot this week if Kirby thought his team was ahead of schedule. He gets annoyed with questions pretty easy, but he’s really sick of this one.
“There is no schedule to winning championships,” Smart kept saying over and over again. “There is no schedule. The only thing is what you have and what you do with what you have.”
What Kirby Smart had in year one wasn’t much. You can certainly say there was more to that team than 8-5, but it was not worthy of winning much more than the Liberty Bowl.
After that regular season was over, it was looking like Georgia was going to lose even more. But it didn’t. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy all chose to stay.
They obviously knew that something special could happen here.
“This is why we came back,” said Sony Michel during the post game celebration. “To be back with my boys. Words can’t explain how I feel.”
It doesn’t take a genius to know if those four players don’t come back, this day doesn’t happen. But they did and it has.
Chubb has now rushed for more yards than everybody to ever play SEC football save one guy named Herschel. Michel will likely cross 1,000 yards in the bowl game. That duo would become the first at UGA to do that in one season.
Carter, Bellamy and Smith have given UGA a linebacking core no one in the country can rival.
But they still had to win. And this team still had so many question marks when the season began.
The offensive line wasn’t good enough. The secondary was thin. What about special teams? Then less than a quarter into the season, a freshman backup became the starting quarterback.
Kirby Smart was not a happy guy when he found out he might have to play another season with an 18-year-old pulling the strings.
That makes this even all the more impressive, doesn’t it? Georgia is SEC Champions, doing it the hard way.
“This is incredible,” said Fromm, moments after winning the title over Auburn 28-7. “It’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog.”
For the first time since the National Championship season of 1980, Georgia has beaten every team it’s played. No the Dawgs are not unbeaten, but they got Auburn back in the game that matters most.
Now for the first time ever, Georgia is going to the College Football Playoff.
It could be a trip back to New Orelans or the Dawgs could be going to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 75 years.
But that is for tomorrow. Tonight, the red and black flag flies first on the SEC banner.
In two years, Kirby Smart has led his alma mater, the University of Georgia, to the SEC title. UGA wanted to become what Alabama is.
A team that cracks your head open on defense and pounds it down your throat on offense.
And a team that wears rings when it walks out the door.
Check, check and check.
Georgia is SEC Champions and not a moment too soon.