Bulldogs Beat

Jason Butt: Georgia's Kirby Smart proves open to new ideas as a football coach

Georgia football head coach Kirby Smart smiles as he is introduced by Mike Cavan at the Macon Touchdown Club jamboree.
Georgia football head coach Kirby Smart smiles as he is introduced by Mike Cavan at the Macon Touchdown Club jamboree. wmarshall@macon.com

ATHENS -- Coaches sometimes can fall into a trap of being set in their ways, with the mindset of sticking with what they know instead of trying new ideas.

Georgia's previous head coach, Mark Richt, sometimes could be a victim of that ideology. While he did change some things schematically during the 15 years he led the program, there were some things that never changed. He usually had the same kind of quarterback under center. His running backs and receivers generally fit a certain prototype.

He didn't care to press the tempo on offense until the final three years of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's tenure at Georgia. When it came to personnel, you knew what you were getting on the field each week.

This isn't to say Kirby Smart, who's in his first year as a head coach, will be remarkably different. But already, Smart has given at least two examples to show he's going to be open to new ideas and trying out different things -- especially when they've been used against him.

The first was hiring Jim Chaney to be his offensive coordinator. A big part of this decision was due to Smart's experience game-planning against Chaney when he was the offensive coordinator at Tennessee and Arkansas.

Smart previously said that preparing for Chaney's offenses while Alabama's defensive coordinator proved difficult, alluding to the fact he would like for other defensive coordinators feel what he felt going against Chaney.

The second came Saturday, when it was revealed Smart offered Heard County quarterback Emory Jones a scholarship. Jones is a class of 2018 quarterback who has a cannon arm and the speed to be a weapon as a runner.

That's the type of quarterback often absent from Georgia's roster, at least since D.J. Shockley was around in 2005. But you can bet that if Jones joined the Bulldogs and became a starter, he won't be used only as a drop-back passer.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with Jones, who said Smart told him he's looking for a quarterback similar to Clemson's Deshaun Watson. As everyone knows, Watson torched Smart's Alabama defense in the College Football Playoff national championship game for 405 passing yards while adding an additional 73 yards on the ground.

Great coaches adapt -- whether it's to the bigger picture of the game itself or to simple areas such as team personnel. While Smart's defense has had a great deal of success against a lot of players and coaches, it's clear he's open to the lessons learned when things don't go as planned -- whether it's game-planning against Chaney or watching a player such as Watson drop dimes all over the field against his vaunted defense.

It seemed like lip service when Smart initially said he would recruit a dual-threat quarterback -- the kind the Richt regime generally stayed away from (for whatever reason) -- if he's a great player who can contribute.

But Smart wasn't bluffing when he said he would go after dual-threat quarterbacks if they're among the best players. And with Chaney as his offensive coordinator, he has a coach who has a history of adjusting to the players available to him.

"You do whatever you have to do to win the game," Smart said. "If that becomes a dual-threat quarterback, then we cross that bridge when we come to it. I do think that creates challenges for the defense. If you find the right guy, which I agree with you there have been a lot of good ones to come out of this state, then you use that."

Of course, everyone knows the old Georgia staff waited awhile before getting in on Watson, one of the nation's top-rated players out of Gainesville in 2014. It allowed Clemson to get a head start and secure his commitment as a sophomore.

Another highly recruited dual-threat quarterback Georgia recruited at a different position, at tight end, was Cam Newton, who did have some off-field trouble at Florida before eventually winning a Heisman Trophy and national championship at Auburn.

Dual-threat quarterbacks Georgia did earn commitments from under Richt were Logan Gray, Faton Bauta and Jacob Park. They combined for one career start, and each player transferred out of the program.

Smart's decision to go after Jones early certainly looks like a change from how Georgia operated in the past.

Being willing to learn and adjust are great qualities in a coach. It sure looks like Smart's open to new ideas he think can help his program, which should prove beneficial for Georgia in the long run.

Contact Jason Butt at jbutt@macon.com

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