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Smart unfazed by Georgia’s lofty expectations

Georgia's Kirby Smart talks Will Muschamp, upcoming football season

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks Tuesday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.
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Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks Tuesday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

It’s his dream job, Kirby Smart said. He’s one of 19 men across the nation lucky enough to coach at their alma mater.

He – and all of Dawg Nation – is hoping it doesn’t become a nightmare. On his side for not living up to the expectations that he has for himself; on Georgia’s for not reaching the expectations it has for him when it turfed Mark Richt after winning more games than anyone not named Vince Dooley.

“To be honest with you, my expectations are way greater than anybody else’s expectations of what we should do,” Smart said on Tuesday at SEC Media Days. “I want to win. I’ve been at some really good programs in my career – LSU, Alabama, FSU, Valdosta State, University of Georgia. They’re good programs and they’re able to recruit good people.

“When you do that, you should have high expectations. And we do.”

Smart believes in himself and has set grand goals, which he wanted to, and really had to. Georgia is not a team that puts up with rebuilds.

The question is how much leeway Smart will receive before the same howls that finally did in Richt begin to circulate.

Richt won. He averaged more than nine wins per season for 15 years and never missed a bowl game. He guided the Bulldogs to two SEC championships when they hadn’t won one in 20 years before he arrived.

For a fanbase that suffered through Ray Goff and Jim Donnan after the legendary Dooley retired, seeing the SEC’s other programs take over where Georgia had owned was excruciating. Richt came to town and began to reverse the trend, but it was never quite enough.

The Bulldogs were good, sometimes great, but never elite. They couldn’t quite get over that hump to play for the biggest prize. While Richt was always in the title conversation and, by all accounts, was a model human being, he wasn’t paid to be a nice guy.

He was paid to win and win big, and things got stale. So the Bulldogs turned to Smart, a man who wore the silver britches and cut his teeth at championship programs, most recently under Nick Saban at Alabama.

The hire was trumpeted. But how long will the echoes last until fans begin putting the same expectations on Smart?

“This year I think fans do expect a lot. You could see that from our spring game,” tight end Jeb Blazevich said, referring to the 93,000-plus that packed Sanford Stadium in April. “I think the fans are ready, we’re ready. So I think they should expect a lot and that’s the culture we want around here, a culture of high expectations, because we surely set it for ourselves, so we want our fans to expect the same.”

Center Brandon Kublanow concurred.

“Coach Smart obviously has high expectations,” he said, “because obviously, we’re UGA.”

Smart is coming from a place where anything but a national championship was failure and even when one was claimed, the question was, “When are you gonna win another?” He knows the SEC, knows how hard it will be to survive just his division, before getting a chance to play the West’s rep (and perhaps his old boss) in Atlanta.

He also knows what Georgia fans think is reasonable and how many others view those goals as pipe dreams. Yet, he signed on to fulfill all dreams.

“Pressure to win began in December, to be honest with you,” Smart said. “And I promise you, I’ll put more pressure on myself to win than any fan will or any part of Dawg Nation will. That never leaves.”

Only coaches do.

If they don’t win enough.

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