Is Kirby Smart Mark Richt 2.0?

Written by Will

This comparison has been happening for a while now. Probably since Georgia lost to Alabama in the 2018 SEC Championship and after Kirby handled the whole Justin Fields/Jake Fromm Situation. For the longest, I chose to ignore those comparisons, but now the comparisons are somewhat fair. Let’s take a deep dive.

Kirby’s first season in 2016 was a little rough, going 8-5 and winning a bowl game vs TCU. But Kirby got the Dawgs to their first SEC championship appearance since 2012 a year later in 2017. Georgia smoked Auburn 28-7 in the SEC Championship and captured their first SEC title since 2005. Just so happens in Richt’s second season (2002) he led Georgia to an SEC Championship. The Dawgs finished the season ranked third that year. If that happened in today’s world, Georgia would have made the playoffs. Lucky for Kirby, there was a playoff. Georgia faced off against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, in what was one of the best games ever. Georgia won in double overtime and advanced to the National championship.

Georgia was up ten in the second half versus Alabama, and as always the lead disappeared real fast. Georgia lost that game in heartbreaking fashion in overtime vs Alabama. Kirby and Georgia finished 13-2 that season, as Richt finished 13-1 in his second season.

That game was heartbreaking for Georgia, but hey, it was just the start right? Kirby’s second year, true freshman quarterback, a five-star quarterback coming next year. The future was looking bright as ever for Georgia. 2018 comes around and expectations are as high as ever for Georgia, much like they were for Richt’s third season. Georgia finished 11-1 in the regular season in 2018, making it back to the SEC Championship. Georgia faced off against yep, you guessed it, Alabama. Once again the Dawgs had a double-digit lead in the second half and it came crumbling down. They had once again choked to Alabama. Georgia then proceeded to lose to Texas in the Sugar Bowl, finishing at 11-3. In Richt’s third season, Georgia also lost in the SEC Championship, and yep his team finished with a record of 11-3.

Kirby’s fourth year, Georgia finished the regular reason 11-1, with one awful loss to South Carolina. Georgia made it back to the SEC Championship for the third year in a row but lost to a much better LSU team. Georgia finished the season 12-2 with a win over Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. In Richt’s fourth year, Georgia finished 10-2 but no SEC Championship appearance.

We are now in Kirby’s fifth year and the Dawgs are 4-2. In Richt’s fifth year Georgia finished 10-3. The main difference between Kirby and Richt is their records against rivals, mainly Florida. Kirby is 3-2 in his first five years against the Gators. Richt was 5-10 against Florida in 15 years, including 1-4 in his first five. There was a big knock about Richt’s ability to beat the top competition, something you have to do at Georgia. That narrative wasn’t always true, but boy it sure did become true during his last few years. In 15 years at Georgia, Richt beat 37 ranked opponents, but from 2011-2015, he lost 17 of 30 games to ranked opponents. Richt’s career at Georgia was filled with good moments, bowl games, some SEC championship appearances, 10 win seasons, but there was never a great moment. Richt struggled against rivals, particularly Florida, and never got Georgia over the hump. Ultimately that would be the reason he was let go.

We are in the middle of Kirby’s fifth season, and the similarities are uncanny. The most frustrating part of Kirby’s tenure has been how he’s handled quarterbacks. Choosing Jake Fromm over Justin Fields, who’s now making a case for himself as the best quarterback in the country at Ohio state.

Almost as if Georgia is a Justin Fields away from being a championship contender.

Well, Georgia had him. The whole quarterback situation this year with Stetson Bennett and JT Daniels has been frustrating as hell to watch play out. The main difference between Kirby’s first five years is he has beaten Florida three times, and taken the Dawgs to a National Championship appearance, something Richt never did.

It’s still too early to say that Kirby is Richt 2.0 but the comparisons are fair. If Kirby still can’t get Georgia over the hump in the next few years, then no doubt in my mind he is Richt 2.0. As of now, it’s still too early to declare that.

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