History shows it’s not smart to judge coach on Year One

It's a long walk off the field after losing to Vanderbilt, as Kirby Smart discovers. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com)

It’s a long walk off the field after losing to Vanderbilt, as Kirby Smart discovers. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com)

Kirby Smart’s first season at Georgia has not been one to soothe the braying masses. But, then, first seasons do not routinely soothe.

In the interest of dabbing a little ointment on the open sore of a loss to Vandy, consider that there are some other very famous college coaches whose first step out of the gate was a halting one.

Apparently, it can take more than a couple of months to transplant a new heart into a program. More than a spring and a half-season of practice time to deliver the complex message of a culture change. And at least one full recruiting cycle to redesign a roster.

Bobby Bowden went 5-6 in 1976, his first season at Florida State. That actually was a vast improvement, as the Seminoles were 4-29 the previous three seasons. His predecessor, Darrell Mudra, was known mostly for coaching from on high, in the press box, during the game and for not backing up that eccentricity with enough electricity.

Not saying that Smart is going to be a transformative character in the mold of Bowden. For one thing, he has not adopted the same type of problem child. Every situation is different. And for another, Smart is several dadgummits shy of being as homespun as FSU’s patriarch.

The case for modest first-year expectation most often cited is of Smart’s previous employer – Nick Saban – who was 7-6 when he took over at Alabama in 2007, infamously losing to a hyphen, Louisiana-Monroe.

Joe Paterno’s end at Penn State was an awful mess. His beginning was only slightly less so. He went 5-5 in 1966. Playing three top five teams that season – Michigan State, UCLA, Georgia Tech – the Nittany Lions lost those by a combined 112-19.

The sainted Bear Bryant’s first team at Alabama (1958) was known for quick-kicking, playing defense and going 5-4-1. His famed Junction Boys, the survivors of a tortuous preseason camp who made up Bryant’s first team at Texas A&M, went 1-9.

Here’s some other first-year records of some fellows you may have heard of, at the places where they became most famous. Smart would gladly trade with a good number of them:

Tom Osborne, Nebraska, 1973: 9-2-1.

Steve Spurrier, Florida, 1990: 9-2. South Carolina, 2005: 7-5.

Darrell Royal, Texas, 1957: 6-4-1.

Vince Dooley, Georgia, 1964: 7-3-1.

Mark Richt, Georgia, 2001: 8-4.

Bud Wilkinson, Oklahoma, 1947: 7-2-1.

Of course, bad head coaches also have ignoble beginnings. That’s the point. There is just no way to know at this pupa stage.

Reader Comments 0

142 comments
Dawgcatcher
Dawgcatcher

I think we all expected to the Dawgs to struggle a bit this year. I think we expected to see well-prepared players and hard-fought games, where we struggle against good teams (coming out on the winning end of a few of them) and certainly beating teams of less quality, but see improvement week-in and week-out. What we have seen is players who look unmotivated and unprepared, and coaches who appear to have no idea what to do. Since I do not really know who is making offensive calls, I can't for sure blame Coach Smart. However, from what I've seen, the only way to improve at this point is to replace Jim Chaney with a great OC.

OH:IO
OH:IO

@bigmacondawg


A tad late wouldn't you say?


But hey, that UL La La in late November will be a big feather in your cap! 

like it is
like it is

If Smart was real smart he would get  new offensive and defensive coaches  ASAP.  and quit running up and down the sidelines like a pom-pom girl.... 

OH:IO
OH:IO

@like it is


Well, it the OC keeps hitting the buffet he could serve as both OC and DC. He'd fit in both meeting rooms at the same time. 

ShovelPlease
ShovelPlease

If you want to compare Smart's record with that of other 1st year coaches make sure the comparison is apt.  Bowden/Paterno/Saban/Dooley/Royal all took over lousy teams or programs in disarray.  Smart took over a team that won 10 games the previous year and most other years.  UGA is loaded with top notch recruiting classes.  Smart's hire was supposed to put UGA over the top.  So far under Smart, Georgia has regressed.  No one is seriously thinking that he'll be fired this year, but no one thinks that Georgia has moved forward this year and is in better shape now.  

The best comparison may be to Tom Osborne's first year.  Osborne took over a near powerhouse and finished 9-2-1, ranked in the top 10.  Smart took over a near powerhouse and isn't going to finish ranked in the top 10.  

TOJacket
TOJacket

Top 50 should be attainable.

BetterDog
BetterDog

All you big mouth Bulldog Fans sit down and shut the hell up.  Give Kirby a chance.  He has a plan and a vision.  He could create something at Ga. that would put the Dawgs in the top tier of college football teams.  I do believe we are spending more time on players who stay of Facebook and Snapchat and want to tell everyone how great they are.  Are these the guys who suck it up and dig deep when you are 3rd down and long or trying to stop an opposing team on the two yard line.  If you go back and look at great Ga. players were they all five tool players?  Are we missing out on the next Scott Woerner?  We seem to have a lot of Prima Donas on the team now.  How many real players do we have when the going gets tough.  Keep up the good work Kirby.  Better days are ahead. 

TOJacket
TOJacket

Betterdawg......I've read that same post for the past 6-7 years?

OH:IO
OH:IO

@BetterDog


Better days are ahead?



They're always ahead if you're a dog. 

Dribble
Dribble

@BetterDog This has got to be a joke, right?  Blown out by Ole Miss.  Losing in last 4 seconds to Tenn.  Just got by Nicholls!!!!  Then this loss to Vandy.  Yeah, keep up the good work Kirby......let's blame the players for your lack of coaching ability.

1peatfor7
1peatfor7

On the flip side coaches like Harbuagh and McElwain won immediately. Meyer ins his previous stops.

baddab
baddab

Kirby is actually just a couple of poor decisions away from a 6-1 record, so I won't panic just yet!

TOJacket
TOJacket

You're describing Richt now.

FlatTire
FlatTire

Ohio St vs  FSU 0-3

             vs  Ray Goff 0-1

              vs   South Carolin 0-2

              vs  Clemson 0-2


Ohio St is 0-4 vs the South Carolina Teams


BLAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH


Please help us AP writers 


LOLLOLOLOLOLOL


JOKE!!!!!!!!!!!!

FlatTire
FlatTire

Ohio St vs the SEC 5-11


vs  South Carolina 0-2

vs  Ray Goff 0-1


blahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah


please help AP we need all those votes so we can be relevant even though we really can't even win against other Southern schools like FSU and Clemson

TOJacket
TOJacket

Hey....Big 10 has OSU, Michigan.....Sec you have Bama and who ever shows up?

TOJacket
TOJacket

Louisville, FSU, UNC......in fact we have 7 teams with 5 or more wins and SEC, SEC has 5.

OH:IO
OH:IO

So, who wants to sell their UL La LA tickets at the oh so vaunted Sanford Stadium in late November? 

FlatTire
FlatTire

@DawgNole  what was that??? I think that was either UGA FSU SC or another Clemson TD.  I couldn't tell they flew by so fast on tv


blahahahahahaha

OH:IO
OH:IO

Flat,


I know they're not expanding but maybe you could join the Big 12. 


Who knows? You might just compete and win something. 


But, I doubt it. 

FlatTire
FlatTire

@OH:IO how about dropping Rutgers and allowing us in


They might have a conference then

OH:IO
OH:IO

@FlatTire


We shall take that under advisement but don't hold your dog breath.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@OH:IO @FlatTire Why don't Rutgers, Maryland , Illinois, Northwestern, Penn State , Purdue, Indiana, Iowa, and Minnesota form their own Little nine Conference and let Michigan , Michigan State , Nebraska, Wisconsin, and theohiostate form a new conference the Not so Big Five.  The competition may be marginally better for both new groups , this way the Buckeyes can schedule Ohio, Miami of Ohio, Kent State, Youngstown  State and Maybe Cincinnati every year and play for the Springer Cup. the champion of the state of Ohio named after the Iconic former mayor Jerry Springer.

TOJacket
TOJacket

Tell me all the SEC powerhouse teams you have?

FlatTire
FlatTire

UGA  10-4  all-time vs Big Joke 10 

UGA    9-2 vs Big joke 10 in bowl games


Ohio St  5-11 vs the SEC


0-1 vs Ray Goff

0-2 vs South Carolina  

blahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah


what a joke



and Ohio wants to talk about UGA being 3rd in a conference that actually has parody






TOJacket
TOJacket

This is getting good now!!

OH:IO
OH:IO

@FlatTire


National Championships (in this and last century)


Heismans (in this and last century). 


Checkmate

FlatTire
FlatTire

@OH:IO  checkmate? that abysmal record against the all time winningest conference and you think you have a checkmate


thats funny you want to talk about coattail riding; the only coattail riding Ive seen is your program riding off the press voting you and all your heismans in



The SEC  only 12 heismans

Ohio St              8 heismans


The conference that has been sending the most players to the NFL for years; most championships most bowl wins and yet they only account for 12 heismans


right; no media bias there


TOJacket
TOJacket

Flat......you're starting to worry me.

OH:IO
OH:IO

@FlatTire @OH:IO


Oh, so it's a single team vs. the entire oh so vaunted SEC! SEC! now. 


Now that's a fair fight. 


But hey, good plug for the new excuse:


The Media

FlatTire
FlatTire



                SEC Titles     Div Titles


Alabama        25                    11

Tenn               13                      6

Georgia         12                      7

LSU                11                      8

Florida             8                     13

Auburn            8                       8

Ole Miss         6                        1



Big Joke 10


Ohio St and Michigan account for 78 conference titles


0 Parody in the Big Joke 10


Basically two teams in that joke conference and when they expanded who did  they go out and get 2 mighty programs in Rutgers and Maryland


Michigan 78  Rutgers 0

Ohio St   58   Rutgers 0


WHAT A JOKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

OH:IO
OH:IO

@FlatTire


See the dogs are even 3rd in this exercise. 


But, hope you feel better about your un and none team. 

OH:IO
OH:IO

@FlatTire @OH:IO


So, was parity a function of the AP/UPI polls? 


BCS rankings and NC selection?


The Playoff Committee's rankings?


Go back and replay 1980 again, flat. Or, was the 1890? Both were such a long time ago. 

DawgNole
DawgNole

@OH:IO

That's UL La, illiterate.

Still out of your league. WAY out!