Incoming Miami grad-transfer receiver Lawrence Cager had the unique experience of getting to know both Kirby Smart and Mark Richt as head coaches the past few years.
Smart has elevated Georgia football into an annual national championship contender in his three years leading the program.
The Bulldogs played in the College Football Playoff Championship Game after the 2017 season, and narrowly missed making the CFP last season in controversial fashion.
Smart coached a season under Richt at Georgia in 2005 and inherited a program on solid footing in 2016.
Richt was was 145-51 over his 15 seasons at Georgia, his .740 winning percentage second only to Smart’s .762 (32-10).
The differences in the disposition of Richt and Smart, Cager indicted, are like fire and ice.
“Kirby was an All-SEC performer, so he can relate to you and he’s a player’s coach, he’s a guy you want to play under,” Cager said. “He gets fired up, just like coach (James) Coley.”
Coley is the offensive coordinator at Georgia under Smart.
But on the front end of Cager’s career, he recruited against his current boss, back when Smart was the defensive coordinator at Alabama.
Cager began his career at Miami in 2015 with Coley calling the plays under then-Hurricanes’ head coach Al Golden.
But then Golden was fired midway through the season, and Richt took over the Miami after being let go from Georgia following he 2015 season and returned to his alma mater to coach the Hurricanes from 2016-2018.
Cager said Richt was much more reserved than what he’s seen from Smart.
“With Coach Richt it was like, ‘We’re here to do this and that and handle business,’ ” Cager said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s turn it up!’ Kirby will say ‘Let’s turn it up on them!’
“Coach Richt was more like, ‘Look, we are coming here, it’s Florida State, we know what we have to do, we need to line up and beat them.”
Cager said the 43-year-old Smart is personable and comes across as being more invested emotionally than the 59-year-old Richt, who delivered messages in businesslike, matter-of-fact tone.
Miami hired Richt to replace Golden after Cager’s freshman season.
Cager said most of the players on the Miami football team had a pretty good idea Richt would be the Hurricanes next head coach.
“Once Georgia let go of Coach Richt, this is his alma mater and his name kept coming up so we all thought we will hire him,” Cager said. “Once we heard it was us or Virginia, we knew for sure.”
Richt changed the culture immediately, Cager said.
“Golden came in here from Temple, he was more laid back,” Cager said. “Richt changed everything. We used to wear anything we wanted to practice, but then Coach Richt came in and wanted everyone uniform. It was old school, everyone would look the same, no earrings, the little stuff.
“It helped a lot of people in the end. He’s a great guy. We were focused on winning championships, but his mentality was we are here to bring the swag back and it’s all about business.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.