So, what does any of this have to do with Smart?
Well, Smart hasn’t won 100 games yet, but he will be coaching his 100th game Saturday when the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs play host to Alabama-Birmingham at Sanford Stadium (7:30 p.m., ESPN2).
In the unlikely case it has gone unnoticed, Georgia has been winning at a pretty good clip since Smart has been on the scene, including the past two national championships. In fact, if the Bulldogs defeat the Blazers – and they’re posted as six-touchdown favorites – Smart will have won 85 of his first 100 games at Georgia. That would represent the best winning percentage over the first 100 games at one school of any coach in SEC history.
Most notably, it would be one game better than Smart’s mentor, Nick Saban. Saban went 84-16 in his first 100 games at Alabama. Phillip Fulmer was 83-17 at the beginning of his tenure at Tennessee. Even the great Bear Bryant won “only” 81 of his first 100 games with the Crimson Tide, though that stretch did include seven ties.
So, Smart is off to a momentous start.
“We are tremendously proud of what coach Smart continues to accomplish at the University of Georgia,” UGA Athletic Director Josh Brooks said Friday. “To win 85 of his first 100 games as a head coach would be a remarkable achievement and another benchmark of his extraordinary career. Coach Smart loves this university and continues to pour into his student-athletes and our athletic department every single day.”
It’s hard to imagine Smart’s first eight seasons as a collegiate head coach going much better. Then, again, anybody who paid attention knows that it certainly could have.
That conversation starts with the Bulldogs’ loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship game at the end of the 2017 season. If not for “second-and-26″ and a few other crazy plays, Georgia would have won its first national title under Smart on Jan. 8, 2018, or less than two calendar years after he’d been on the job full-time.
Instead, the Bulldogs had to wait until Year 6, when they finally vanquished the Bama beast and won the 2021 national championship, the school’s first in 41 years. A year later, Georgia became the first college football team to repeat as national champion since Alabama in 2011-12. The Bulldogs’ 65-7 win over TCU in the 2022 CFP Championship game went down as the most lopsided victory in postseason history.
And now Georgia (3-0) is attempting to run down the elusive “three-peat.” Not since the Minnesota Gophers in 1936 has a major-college football program won three national championships in a row.
So far, so good. But Smart’s achievements are the result of an in-the-moment mentality. So, good luck getting him to talk about any of that. Accordingly, the only thing on the 47-year-old coach’s mind this week is defeating UAB (1-2).
Smart claimed to be completely unaware of the fact that he was coaching his 100th game Saturday until informed of it during the SEC coaches’ weekly teleconference call Wednesday.
“I guess it’s a marker of some sorts, the first 100,” Smart said. “I don’t know the significance outside of that. I wasn’t aware of that.”
Truthfully, there shouldn’t be much angst about Smart running down the win Saturday. The Bulldogs’ visitors from the American Athletic Conference are receiving $1.9 million to play Georgia between the hedges. And while there never should be a scenario in which such a team would be considered a threat against the Bulldogs, this particular collection of Blazers is a struggling work in progress. They were trailing Louisiana-Lafayette 34-3 in the third quarter at home in Birmingham on Saturday on the way to losing 41-21.
They’re in the first year of a first-time college head coach, Trent Dilfer, who expressed genuine excitement this week about being on the sidelines for an SEC game for the first time in his life. The closest he’s been before was attending an Alabama game in the stands with his daughter.
As for trying to compete with the team on the other sideline, that’s another matter for Dilfer and the Blazers.
“It looks very much like getting ready for the Baltimore Ravens, or getting ready for the Rams, or Chargers or whoever you’re playing that week,” Dilfer, a 14-year NFL veteran, said of studying the Bulldogs on video this week. “You have really good players that are really well-coached and that know what they’re doing.”
Georgia has some issues of its own. It already has allowed three touchdowns this season, including a rushing TD to South Carolina last week. It took them to the fourth quarter of the fourth game last season for the Bulldogs to allow an opponent to run into their end zone.
And the fan base is beside itself about Georgia’s offensive struggles in the red zone, so far. Seven times, it has penetrated the opposing team’s 20-yard and failed to reach the end zone. It has missed three field-goal attempts, to boot, slicing the Bulldogs’ margin of victory to a paltry 31 points of game.
Sarcasm aside, there are some shortcomings with Smart’s eighth Georgia team. Injuries are at an all-time high, and with 25 players getting snapped up in the past two NFL drafts, the incredible depth of talent that overwhelmed opponents during the current 30-game regular-season win streak seems to be lacking.
So, there are genuine concerns that such weaknesses might get exposed as the Bulldogs venture to Auburn in a week for the first of seven consecutive SEC games. But those are worries for another day.
As the Bulldogs prepare to celebrate a rare night game under their newfangled, red-LED lights at Sanford Stadium, win No. 85 out of 100 seems as certain as Smart wearing a visor Saturday.
Smart did some of his finest work as Georgia’s coach last week after his team trailed South Carolina 14-3 at halftime. In a locker-room video that went viral on social media, Smart calmly told his team that they merely needed to “win the next moment,” and then the next and the next, to be assured of a comeback victory. The Bulldogs did just that, outscoring the Gamecocks 21-0 in the second half.
Such a rally shouldn’t be needed Saturday for Smart to run down win No. 85. But neither was he giving himself all that much credit for the previous 84.
“It’s one of those things if you do a good job and recruit good players and you have a good organization and good support, it allows you to make it to that number, you know?” Smart said this week. “And, certainly, I want to go out and play our best game (Saturday).”
Smart knows he has a way to go to become known as one of the all-time greats. For 10 years he worked at Alabama for the coach currently known as the “G.O.A.T.” The first benchmark for getting into that conversation is winning 100 games.
It took Saban 118 games to notch 100 victories with the Crimson Tide. He needed the third fewest games, 261, of all-time to reach 200 overall career wins. Turning 72 next month, Saban is 282-70-1 overall between stints at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and Alabama.
As for Georgia, the late Vince Dooley has the most wins, going 201-77-10 over 25 seasons through 1988. Mark Richt (145-51) and Wally Butts (140-86-9) are the only others to reach 100 for the Bulldogs.
Smart remains far behind those three, but is making up ground fast. Only he knows how long he’ll keep doing what he’s doing, and it doesn’t seem he has given that much contemplation to date.
“The truth is, what you’ve done is who you are, and right now who we are is a 3-and-oh team that has played three imperfect games,” Smart said. “I’m still looking for the first perfect one.”