Like many former players who stay close to the program, former Georgia quarterback Fran Tarkenton liked former Georgia head coach Mark Richt. Admired him, even.
But Tarkenton gets it. It was time for a coaching change.
“Head coach in pro football, college football is a tough job, and I think that it was probably time for a change,” Tarkenton said. “You say, ‘Well, he won 10 games,’ and I understand that, and nobody would’ve faulted (athletics director) Greg McGarity if he’d kept him. He probably got a lot of ridicule for not keeping him. But here’s my point: I think the University of Georgia football program, I think it should be the best football program in the country.
“I think that the standards that we should set is we should compete every year for an SEC championship and have a chance to go (to the national championship). That’s what Alabama does. With (Nick) Saban they do it. They did it with Bear Bryant. Why not us? Why should we be content with winning nine or 10 games?”
Much of Tarkenton’s argument about Georgia’s status as a national power centers around recruiting.
Georgia is among the premier producing states for college-level talent, and it features far less competition than states like Texas and Florida with just two major Division I programs vying for top talent.
“Back to Johnny Majors, used to be the coach at Tennessee, all the way back to talking to coaches now, they think the best recruiting ground in America is the state of Georgia,” Tarkenton said. “The other states that have great talent that are big are Florida, Texas and California. They all have five, six, seven, eight Division I football programs. We have one, Georgia Tech, and … they don’t get many players that the Dogs want.”
Because of this, Tarkenton approves of new head coach Kirby Smart’s home-grown initiative to keep the state’s top talent at Georgia, an effort that already has paid off with a 2017 recruiting class with nine members, including eight four-stars, all from the state of Georgia.
Overall, Tarkenton approves of Smart at the helm of the Bulldogs’ program.
“I love having Kirby Smart here; I think he’s good for our program,” Tarkenton said. “He’s got a great background. He’s smart. He was a player and a good player, and he had Saban. Saban’s my good friend, and you’ve got to be pretty tough to coach under Saban for how many years? Nine, 10, 11, 12 or more.”
Although Tarkenton doesn’t know Smart personally and hasn’t met him outside of a quick introduction, the perception that Saban, a very close friend, has given him of Smart is enough for Tarkenton.
“Saban thinks he’s great, Saban likes him,” Tarkenton said. “He wouldn’t have been the defensive coordinator to Saban if he didn’t. He respects him. … If you can work for Saban as a defensive coordinator for as long as he did and Saban respects him and thinks he’s a great coach. But he’s a great recruiter also. A great coach, Saban’s a great coach, but he’s a great recruiter. And Kirby Smart is a great coach, but he’s a great recruiter. You’ve got to be both. Because if you don’t have great players, you can’t win.”