ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart has seen the future of college football, and it’s coming at him and his championship caliber program fast.
The early signing date combined with a more liberal transfer policy has Smart and his coaching staff adjusting on the fly. Both changes hit the Bulldogs hard this year with four juniors declaring for the NFL draft.
Smart sees a trend developing that could make his job harder.
“I don’t mind what (rules) we have now, I just don’t know that it’s congruent with the NFL process with the declare date being January 14,” Smart said Wednesday afternoon on the Paul Finebaum Show on the SEC Network. “I’m finding out January 14 who’s leaving, but yet I’m signing kids in December who are coming in (January).
“I think more and more teams, especially upper echelon programs, will have rosters full of freshman or sophomores and a few juniors, because your (would-be) seniors are coming out early, or they’re transferring, they’re going in the (transfer) portal if they’re not playing,” he said.
“So your teams will always be loaded with youth, and probably whoever manages that best, is who’s going to remain at the top of college football.”
Smart has had as demanding of an offseason as any coach in the country.
There has been a scramble to replace seniors graduating, juniors leaving and former celebrated recruits Justin Fields and Luke Ford transferring.
Smart is also replacing veteran coordinators Jim Chaney and Mel Tucker.
The expedited recruiting process and proliferation of early enrollees is something Smart, a fourth-year head coach, says he’s still learning to deal with.
“The transition from the last (regular-season) game of the year, through an (early) signing date — that occurs earlier than you know what your juniors are doing — before you have your last (bowl) game of the year,” Smart said, listing the exhaustive order of events that included a surprising 28-21 loss to Texas.
“There’s a lot of distractions around that, that’s something as a coach you grow and learn to manage,” Smart said. “The leadership of your team has been so critical. The last three or four weeks, I’ve been so pleased to go into our team meetings and see our kids working out in the weight room.”
Georgia has 14 early enrollees, a handful of them capable of making an immediate impact.
Smart was also pleased to close the 2019 signing class on Wednesday by flipping 5-star receiver George Pickens from Auburn to UGA.
Finebaum pointed out Smart has become known for his recruiting prowess as much as his on-field success, and asked him how he’s been able to recruit so well so soon at Georgia.
“It’s because we work really hard at it, we build relationships with these kids’ families from Day One, we’re well into the 2020 and 2021 class,” Smart said. “The entire month of January we spend trying to get close to 2020 kids, and I always think it’s about relationships.
“We dedicate a lot of time to recruiting because it’s the lifeblood of our program. We have a tremendous program to sell, when you think about the marketability and ability to play national TV games.”
Smart said Georgia played in three of the five biggest games of the past two seasons, “so that’s been really good exposure for our program.”
The Super Bowl was, too, as the Bulldogs had more former players on the teams’ rosters (5) than any other program.
“I think it helped having the Super Bowl in Atlanta …. with us having the most players in the Super Bowl between the two teams,” Smart said. “From the University of Georgia, (there) in Atlanta, which is our home base.
“All the things that happened for us, it was tremendous for us to be in some homes at that time.”
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