Georgia’s Kirby Smart named SEC’s coach of year

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

ATHENS – For the second year in a row, Georgia’s Kirby Smart was named the SEC coach of the year.

By his fellow coaches, that is. The Associated Press went instead with Tennessee’s Josh Heupel as coach of the year. The Volunteers are 10-2 this season after going 7-6 last season.

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As for Smart’s work, the defending national-champion Bulldogs (13-0) remain undefeated and ranked No. 1. Overall, Georgia has won 15 consecutive and 31 of its past 32, dating to the 2020 season. The Bulldogs will play No. 4 Ohio State (11-1) in a College Football Playoff semifinal in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 31 (8 p.m., ESPN).

Smart also was named SEC coach of the year in 2017 and ‘21 and was named national coach of the year by the Maxwell Club in 2021. Earlier this week, he was named a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award, which also is presented annually to a recipient deemed as national coach of the year. He is now 79-15 as Georgia’s coach, with five of the losses coming in his first season (8-5).

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kirby and his staff and team and what they’ve done,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said earlier this week. “Certainly winning last season and going undefeated this season and winning the SEC championship, they’re playing at a high level.”

What makes Smart’s work more impressive is he has been able to keep the Bulldogs on top despite losing 15 players to the NFL draft and 13 others to the transfer portal after winning it all last season. Among that group was five first-round draft picks and eight overall from the defense. Yet, Georgia remains No. 2 nationally in scoring defense this season.

The Bulldogs also have made strides on offense under sixth-year former walk-on quarterback Stetson Bennett, who this week was invited to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

“This has been a different group,” Smart said with a grin after beating LSU 50-30 to win the SEC Championship game. “You guys have tried to label them, tried to figure ‘em out, tried to analyze ‘em. They’re not (comprehensible). But they do what they have to do, and they do it well. They care about each other, and they really do it for each other.”

Speaking of offense, Todd Monken, Georgia’s coordinator on that side of the ball, was a finalist for the Frank Broyles Award. However, he came up short in the voting for the honor, which went instead to TCU offensive coordinator Garret Riley.

During his time on the podium in at the Broyles ceremony in Little Rock, Ark., on Tuesday, Monken shared his respect for the coach he works for.

“I’m just a byproduct of our players, Kirby Smart and the culture and our coaching staff,” Monken said. “I’ve been doing this a long time and been around a lot of great coaches and my whole family’s in coaching, and there’s nobody I trust more than Kirby Smart in terms of we’re going to win, we’re going to work, we’re going to recruit. And that’s over 56 years.”

Also on Wednesday, senior place-kicker Jack Podlesny was named SEC special-teams player of the year. Podlesny leads the SEC and ranks sixth nationally in scoring this season with 130 points (10 per game). He is 23-for-26 in field-goal attempts and 61-for-61 in PATs. Also, he has 60 touchbacks among his 91 kickoffs this season.

It was the second year in a row that the Bulldogs produced the league’s top specialist. Punter Jake Camarda earned the honor in 2020. This marks Smart’s third accolade of this kind (2017, ‘21) and the 14th overall for Bulldogs coaches since 1942.

On Tuesday, sophomore tight end Brock Bowers, junior offensive tackle Warren McClendon, junior defensive lineman Jalen Carter, senior safety Chris Smith and Podlesny (PK, kickoff specialist) were named to the All-SEC first team.

SEC second-teamers for Georgia included Bennett, sophomore receiver Ladd McConkey, junior tight end Darnell Washington, sophomore center Sedrick Van Pran, junior defensive lineman Nazir Stackhouse, sophomore defensive back Kelee Ringo and junior long snapper William Mote.

The freshman All-SEC Team will be released Thursday.