SMITH COLUMN: Smart has time on his side

Published 3:29 pm Thursday, March 14, 2024

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Spring is the time of the year for many sports to peak. Someday, and I feel sooner than later, Mike White will have us excited about his team making the playoffs. He will get us into March Madness.

Even with a disappointing second year, it was interesting to note that the fan base enjoyed seeing what this bright and indefatigable workhorse has in mind for developing a competitive program that can win championships.  Even with losing close games, the fan base continued to show up right to the bitter end. He will have the resources that he needs to be competitive, and he has the fire in the belly to build a consistent winner.

As basketball ends along with swimming, which remains relevant under Neil Versfeld (Men) and Stefanie Moreno (Women), we see baseball, softball, track, tennis, golf and equestrian already into their seasons and there is mostly good news.

Track under Caryl Smith Gilbert will always have the goal of winning national championships. She is recruiting great athletes to Athens, those with performances that will lead many of them to Olympic gold. With new facilities on the drawing board, we will someday see world class competition on campus. And often.

Women’s tennis, with Drake Bernstein taking over, is in the fast lane like it was under Jeff Wallace for years, and while Manuel Diaz is making an exit after this season, his successor Jamie Hunt has high ambitions to keep winning championships just like his predecessor and mentor.

Golf with Chris Haack, remains a contender for the SEC title, as has been the case for many years. On the women’s side, Josh Brewer will try to maneuver his team to finish in the top 20 in the NCAA championship for the fourth straight year.

Equestrian and Meghan Boenig are off to a fast start, which is not unusual as she seeks her 8th National Championship.

That brings us to baseball and what a resounding start Wes Johnson has brought about for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs have been knocking the cover off the ball and began this week with a 16-1 record. And the coach’s expertise is that he is a pitching guru.  I’d say if his pitching holds up in SEC competition, his serendipitous start could end with a serendipitous finish.

While all this has been going on, football spring practice is getting underway, which will end with the annual spring game on April 13th. Spring practice has always brought about more than a passing interest and that interest has peaked considerably with fans having an opportunity to see the freshman who will see action in the spring game.

Interest has ratcheted upwards since Kirby Smart arrived on the scene as he advanced the notion that fans should show their support by showing up for the G-Day game. In his first year it was pretty much a sellout and huge crowds have become commonplace on spring game Saturday.

That should come as no surprise for a program that has lost only two games in three years and will be in the hunt this fall for another national title.

In the space of seven years, he has become the greatest football coach in history of the state of Georgia with two national titles and a runner-up.

To begin with, it is really difficult to win a championship and when you win one you have to experience a lot of luck. Just check the record book. It took Vince Dooley 16 years to win a national title; Nick Saban needed 14 years, Darrell Royal, 16; Bear Bryant, 19; Woody Hayes and Dabo Swinney, nine.

Let this sink in. Kirby played for a national title in only his second season. That’s incredible!! 

Age is on Smart’s side. He is only 48 and has not lost a step. He is on top of his game and as his indefatigability gathers momentum, he is a creative thinker and will always seek to be more efficient and to improve on what he is doing. If there is a better mousetrap out there, he will find it.

Recruiting requires maximum energy commitment and management of countless details. While recruiting is the key ingredient to success in his view, you only need to watch him on Gameday to know that as an intense competitor, he hates losing.

There is plenty of exciting action around the campus and there is the Masters scene the first full week in April which is a global backdrop offering to the world the best in golf competition—the first major championship of the spring.

All we need from this point is good weather.