Kirby Smart never used the words “culture change” during his introductory news conference as the head coach at Georgia, but early in Smart’s tenure, the phrase began to get slung around.
The steps to implement a new mindset within a program aren’t as tangible as changing offensive schemes or improving the players’ strength. Rather, it’s an effort to create a certain approach within the minds of players. Playing under Smart, that means learning to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations and never settling.
Cementing Smart’s ideology took time — Georgia went 8-5 in his first season — but at this year’s bye week, Georgia is 7-0 and ranked third in the country. That’s the Bulldogs’ highest ranking in any poll since the week of the 2012 SEC championship game.
“Year one was trial and error,” senior wide receiver Javon Wims said. “This year we wanted to get it right.”
Smart said Georgia’s program wasn’t broken when he was hired, but there was a certain way he wanted to run his team.
For example, players have said Georgia’s practices can be harder than games. The bye week is referred to as a “work week,” and Smart never appears satisfied with his team’s play. Instead, in an effort to avoid complacency, Smart often pedals a message that the team needs to improve.
Wims referred to the economical concept of a trickle-down effect for how Smart implemented his philosophies as a coach. Early on, Smart said leadership had to come from within the team. So Smart emphasized his beliefs within the upperclassmen, who relayed that mindset to Georgia’s younger players. In that way, a foundation could be constructed.
“I think Coach Smart has instilled a new threshold for work,” senior linebacker Davin Bellamy said. “In the past you thought you were working hard, but you could work harder. Right now, he's getting (everything) out of us.
“Coach Smart even has our scout team going hard.”
That Georgia finds itself undefeated this late in the season for the first time since 2005 — the last year Georgia won an SEC title — isn’t wholly on Smart and his philosophy as a coach. There’s also more comfort schematically, tight end Jackson Harris said, in the second year under a coaching staff.
Smart, who players said is the same type of coach as when he arrived, approaches his program’s culture as ever-changing. To him, it's not something that once implemented, remains forever.
“I don't know that you ever achieve it, to be honest with you,” Smart said. “Your culture's always changing. To me, the culture you create is created by the seniors and the leaders on the team. That's shaped by every team and every team is different. We obviously want to be an effort, toughness, discipline team. I think each year, that team takes on its own personality.”