New Georgia coach Kirby Smart adjusts to overseeing offense, QBs

ATHENS, Ga. -- When Kirby Smart led the defensive meetings at Alabama, Nick Saban would often duck in and offer morsels of wisdom.

"He’d have a great idea," Smart said. "You might say, 'Where in the world did he get that from?’"

Uh, well, he's Nick Saban, originator of all great ideas. What else is the dungeon for? Or the minions of mind readers on Alabama's ever-expanding support staff?

The truth is less exciting but more logical. Saban, despite a background in defense, offered a different perspective because he also sat in offensive meetings. Because that's what head coaches do.

"You're hearing the other side of the fence, so you bring more to the table when you hear why they're doing what they're doing," Smart said. "That's been the biggest benefit to me, but it's also a little uncomfortable. I don't feel like I’m contributing where I used to contribute."

Smart is becoming more comfortable in his new role as Georgia's head coach because he's spending time with the offense and quarterbacks. Although he grants autonomy to Jim Chaney, Georgia's offensive coordinator, Smart tries to absorb as much as he can about the system, the personnel and the personalities in the meeting room.

Smart has had no direct involvement with the offense since his last stint at Georgia, when he coached running backs in 2005 before joining Saban's staff with the Miami Dolphins. But he's keenly aware of how important Georgia's offense will be to his immediate success.

Asked about the keys to success for a first-time coach in the SEC -- the track record recently and historically isn't good -- Smart began a spiel about the need to be consistent in all areas, especially recruiting. Then, he stopped himself.

"I can also say it comes down to quarterback play," he said. "If you chart SEC champions over a 20-year period, the one consistent thing to me is you're not going to win if you don’t have a quarterback. It's too critical of a position. He decides something every play."

Smart will ultimately decide which quarterback gets to make the key decisions for Georgia this season. Senior Greyson Lambert, junior Brice Ramsey and freshman Jacob Eason will compete for the starting spot throughout the spring.

Lambert started 12 games last season, throwing 12 touchdowns against just two interceptions and completing more than 70 percent of his attempts in five games. But midseason struggles against Alabama and Tennessee raised some doubts about the veteran.

Fan focus this spring has unsurprisingly centered on Eason, the No. 1 quarterback and No. 13 overall player in the 2016 recruiting class, according to ESPN. While Smart saw heralded quarterback prospects come through Alabama during his time there, he didn't have to manage them.

Tapering expectations of Eason, as difficult as it may be, is Smart's top priority with the freshman. He has reached out to NFL coaches who worked with highly drafted quarterbacks, like Bruce Arians, the Indianapolis Colts' quarterbacks coach when Peyton Manning was drafted No. 1 overall in 1998.

"Those situations had some similarities where a guy’s going into a situation where the expectation is you're going to be the savior of the program," Smart said. "I won't put that pressure because I don’t think it’s healthy for him. Showing him when he does things well, but also showing him when he doesn't, is the best thing he can get."

Eason is "result-oriented," but Smart and the Georgia coaches have to reinforce the details. A touchdown pass can still result from a wrong read, they remind him.

The quarterback competition is simply the most publicized element of an offense under the microscope this spring. Although Georgia returns more offensive starters (not even counting tailback Nick Chubb), the unit is going through a significant transformation. Smart estimates that 90 percent of the information will change on offense, as opposed to just 20 percent on defense, coordinated last year by Jeremy Pruitt, a Saban disciple who replaced Smart at Alabama.

The system overhaul can be overwhelming for everyone in the meeting room, including the head coach.

"It's definitely an adjustment for me," Smart said, "but I've enjoyed it. I think it's making me a better coach."