Kirby Smart vs. Mark Richt: Why The First Three Seasons Debate Is More Complicated Than It Seems

Kirby Smart vs. Mark Richt: Why The First Three Seasons Debate Is More Complicated Than It Seems

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Kirby Smart vs. Mark Richt: Why The First Three Seasons Debate Is More Complicated Than It Seems


Introduction

Losing a heartbreaking game to Alabama in the SEC Championship and a poorly contested Allstate Sugar Bowl to Texas was not the way Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs wanted to end an otherwise successful 2018 season.

Now that Coach Smart’s first three seasons at Georgia are officially in the books, many are comparing them to former coach Mark Richt’s.

Surprisingly, the statistics are very similar.  Through three seasons at Georgia, both coaches had similar records, with each winning 32 games and taking the Dawgs to great places.  However, the debate gets more complex once you get past the statistics.

Coaching Records Through First Three Seasons

Richt:

First season: (8-4)

Second season: (13-1)

Third season: (11-3)

Smart: 

First season: (8-5)

Second season: (13-2)

Third season: (11-3)

 

Record Analysis

It’s difficult to draw complete conclusions from these stat lines alone.  Yes, the two coaches had comparable records in their first three years coaching the Bulldogs but that is without a number of other factors.

The College Football Playoff did not exist in Richt’s first three seasons in Athens.  Recruiting classes were very different.  The players were not the same of course, as well as the opponents and their teams.

Mark Richt never had to face a Nick Saban-led Alabama team in his first three seasons with Georgia.  Kirby Smart only coached against the LSU Tigers once in his first three seasons at Georgia and though he lost, faced a different team than the one Richt had to deal with back in the early 2000s.

However, the most noteworthy factor is Kirby Smart’s success against the Dawgs’ most heated rival, the Florida Gators. Smart is 2-1 against the Gators, with dominating wins the past two seasons. Richt could not find a way to beat the Gators in his first three seasons, though Georgia was the more talented team.  To counter, Kirby Smart has not been able to get a road win against an SEC West opponent while at Georgia.  Smart lost to Ole Miss (2016), Auburn (2017) and LSU (2018).

Despite all of the hypotheticals and distinguishing factors, one can make a case that both coaches fared about the same on the field.  Where the debate gets tricky is recruiting and development.

Take a look at the recruiting classes signed by each coach in their debut season and the following three years.

We will start with the 2001 and 2016 classes, though both coaches were introduced in December, towards the end of their respective recruiting cycles.

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