Bill Shanks

There’s a coaching and talent problem in Athens

Georgia receiver Riley Ridley (8) can't handle a pass from Jacob Eason in the end zone in the second quarter. The drive ended two plays later with a field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship.
Georgia receiver Riley Ridley (8) can't handle a pass from Jacob Eason in the end zone in the second quarter. The drive ended two plays later with a field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship. bcabell@macon.com

It’s amazing what a loss to Vanderbilt will do for a fan base. Georgia’s fanatics have been out of control the past few days, and it’s understandable.

There is no excuse for losing to Vanderbilt. None. Forget first-year head coach, freshman quarterback, lack of talent, etc. No one wants to hear any excuse about a loss to Vanderbilt.

This is the last thing Kirby Smart needed to happen. He didn’t need his team to give the fan base, particularly a section of the base still attached to the previous head coach, reason to question him. He didn’t need others to wonder if he was the right man for the job.

But lose to Vanderbilt, and those questions will be asked.

So instead of seeking excuses for the loss Saturday, let’s just analyze what’s wrong. Why is this happening? Why has this team been pretty bad, and how did this program get in this shape?

First, he warned us about this. When Smart took the job in January, didn’t he tell us this program was close to where it needed to be if a championship was the goal? He should know, with his years at Alabama. Smart told everyone who would listen this was going to take time.

It’s funny, really, how when a team loses there will be some who will say there is a coaching problem and others who will hold steadfast to the belief there is a talent problem. The truth is, when it has gotten so bad that a team loses on homecoming to Vanderbilt, it’s both.

Smart is in his first year. There is a transition period that goes on, and usually when a coach takes over it’s because the program is not where it needs to be. So that means there is work to do, work that will not be done overnight.

Is Smart overwhelmed in his new job? Certainly. Have you ever taken on a new job at the next level? I did four months ago starting two new radio stations. Instead of just walking in and doing a show for three hours, I now have to put out fires every single day for the entire station. My responsibilities increased substantially, and naturally, I’ve been overwhelmed at times.

So don’t think Smart is not overwhelmed. All the years under the greatest coach in the sport could not prepare him for the actual time when every single thing fell on his shoulders. It is going to take time for him to get used to that. The hope must be he’ll be better in year two than in year one and continue to get better as he gets more experience.

Smart was the man for this job. Coordinators have to take the next step at some point. He was ready for the challenge, but it doesn’t mean he’s going to win a national title in season one. And it doesn’t mean he’s perfect or is a finished product. Like his players, Smart must get better.

Regardless of what is happening now, it doesn’t mean what happened in December when his predecessor was fired should not have happened. It was past time for that train to leave the station. Mark Richt had his 15 years, and that was enough.

Smart has a talent problem on his roster. What areas of the Georgia team do you feel can be described as solid? I’ll give you three — the running backs, tight ends and the defensive line. So that leaves the following positions that could be easily labeled as questionable — the receivers, the offensive line, the quarterback (young but still questionable), linebackers, the secondary and by all means special teams.

So if six of the nine areas on a football team can be described as questionable (or downright bad), there is a talent issue — a serious talent issue.

Bulldawg Illustrated recently did an analysis of the 2013 and 2014 Georgia signing day classes. Those would be the seniors and juniors on Georgia’s current roster. Of the 51 players signed, 24 have either transferred, been dismissed and/or exhausted their eligibility.

Good luck, Kirby.

His roster has serious deficiencies. It’s hard to evaluate freshman Jacob Eason when he has no offensive line and besides his tight ends, little to no help at receiver. How can a team win with that combination?

That being said, Georgia should still never lose to Vanderbilt. That’s why fans are upset, but there should be perspective on why Georgia has a long way to go.

Smart has used the word his mentor uses occasionally, saying this is a “process.” In other words, don’t expect an overnight fix. This simply might take awhile — to not only get him better, but to get more talent on the Georgia roster.

He’s a long way from Tuscaloosa, and Georgia has a long way to go to even think about emulating the best program in college football.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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