X

Kirby Smart's Legend Grows as Back-to-Back National Titles Cement Georgia's Dynasty

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 10, 2023

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 09: Head coach Kirby Smart of the Georgia Bulldogs  prepares to take the field with his players before the College Football Playoff National Championship game against the TCU Horned Frogs at SoFi Stadium on January 09, 2023 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Georgia took a calculated risk on Kirby Smart.

Though the program was successful under Mark Richt, the soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach repeatedly fell shy of the sport's pinnacle. Despite his 145-51 record and two SEC crowns in 15 years, the Bulldogs hadn't won a league championship in a decade and never celebrated a national title.

Bridging the gap between very good and elite is incredibly difficult. Richt kept Georgia in the national discussion each season but could not summit the mountain.

This, however—another year atop the college football world thanks to a 65-7 annihilation of TCU in the national championship game Monday night—is exactly why UGA rolled the dice on Smart.

After firing its known commodity in November 2015, Georgia hired a promising coach who had learned under Nick Saban. Smart was a logical choice. He knew the program, the SEC. He had watched a legend work every day.

But there were no certainties about what Smart may, or might not, accomplish at his alma mater. Any number of hotshot candidates—experienced or not, Saban disciples or otherwise—have stumbled, failed and flamed out.

Seven years, one month and three days later, the answer is undeniable: Georgia hired the most prolific coach in program history.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks during a news conference ahead of the national championship NCAA College Football Playoff game between Georgia and TCU, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Los Angeles. The championship football game will be played Monday. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
AP Photo/Mike Stewart

It's perhaps ever so slightly too early to consider Smart the single greatest coach at Georgia. The iconic Vince Dooley, who died in October, amassed a 201-77-10 record with a national title, six SEC championships and eight Top 10 finishes in 25 years.

Smart, though, is clearly on the brink of demanding that crown as Georgia becomes a dynasty.

Since the start of the BCS era in 1998, four programs—Florida, Alabama, Clemson and now Georgia—have earned multiple titles in a four-year span. UGA joined Alabama as the only consecutive winners, and Smart became the first Bulldogs coach to win multiple national titles.

He also has an SEC title and national runner-up finish in 2017. There are division crowns in 2018 and 2019, six straight seasons as a Top 10 team.

Plus, because of impending changes, Smart and Georgia have an especially favorable path to maintaining the dynasty label.

Sure, the team is expected to contend nationally again next season. But in 2024 and beyond, the College Football Playoff will expand to 12 programs. Georgia has lost no more than two regular-season games since 2016. That kind of record will be almost always be deserving of a CFP invite.

And the Dawgs are built to keep dominating.

Since Smart's first full recruiting cycle in 2017, Georgia has owned a top-four ranking every year. In case you needed more evidence, the evisceration of TCU offered a clear reminder that stars matter.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Georgia becomes the third FBS team in the modern era to finish 15-0 🐶🔥 <a href="https://t.co/mnZEBzhzhZ">pic.twitter.com/mnZEBzhzhZ</a>

The next steps, of course, include maintaining a quality coaching staff to best develop the premier talent.

The intertwined challenge is that immense team success leads to opportunities elsewhere for coaches. During this tenure, Smart has had four assistants—Mel Tucker (Michigan State), Sam Pittman (Arkansas), Shane Beamer (South Carolina) and Dan Lanning (Oregon)—become head coaches.

Yet with internal promotions and external hires, Smart has stabilized the staff and guided the Dawgs to excellence.

The defense has boasted top-25 rankings in yards allowed per play and points allowed per game in six consecutive years. The offense—in theory, the weaker unit—has averaged at least six yards per snap and 30 points per game in each of those seasons.

Georgia set a record with 15 selections in the 2022 NFL draft. Since 2018, the Dawgs have enjoyed six-plus picks each year—and will have at least 10 more in 2023. In total, NFL teams have drafted 45 Bulldogs under Smart's watch.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is doused during the second half of the national championship NCAA College Football Playoff game against TCU, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. Georgia won 65-7. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Smart has, by any definition, built Georgia into a dynasty.

The program has recruited, developed, executed and—most importantly—won at undeniably elite levels for a half-dozen seasons, and there is no end in sight for any of those factors.

Just as when Georgia hired Smart, future success cannot be guaranteed. Still, it's simply a fact to say he has placed UGA in position to appear on the CFP stage with regularity, and it's far from controversial to suggest that it will continue.

Smart has realized what's never before been accomplished in Athens, winning two national titles. Longevity is the only element separating him from an unquestioned spot as Georgia's all-time great.

Get his statue ready.

Be sure to save room for more trophies, too.