ATHENS — Kirby Smart has spent much time in the state of Georgia while recruiting as an assistant on Alabama’s staff.
Now, Smart’s recruiting challenge has changed. He gets to talk to top prospects in the talent-rich state as Georgia’s coach.
“I like being the home team,” Smart said of his new in-state strength Monday when formally introduced as Georgia’s coach. “I don’t like playing on the road all the time. That’s what makes this job good. … There are a lot of good players in the state and there have been throughout the years.”
Smart began in-state recruiting on Sunday, when his hiring was announced. On Monday he took a flight to Washington state, where he visited on of former coach Mark Richt’s top recruits, quarterback Jacob Eason. Eason has committed to Georgia but quickly took a trip to Florida following Richt’s firing.
Eason is expected to visit Athens this weekend.
As an elite prospect, Eason’s decision will be closely watched. Smart said Georgia needs new talent and depth at every position. Smart, the former Georgia player and assistant, was candid in his comments about the lack of depth and explosive big-play ability he saw on the Bulldogs’ roster this year.
“We’ve got to improve the quality of the depth throughout the team,” he said. “Both offensive and defensive lines, skill areas, there is no area here that doesn’t need improvement and depth. But that can be done, and I think it will be done.”
Smart said Georgia must sign “great skill people … so you can make explosive plays. I think that was lacking somewhat last year here on this team.”
A key for such players as Eason will be Georgia’s offensive system. Georgia employed a pro-style offense with Richt, and that was an attraction for Eason. Many colleges now run spread offenses.
Smart wasn’t ready to commit to either offensive style.
“Now to say are you going to be spread or are you going to be pro? I don’t think you can pigeon hole yourself into that,” he said. “I like to think you’ve got to be both in both situations. You’ve got to utilize the talent you have on your team.”
Smart has a week to devote to Georgia before he’ll return to his duties as Alabama’s defensive coordinator through the College Football Playoff. If Alabama advances to the national championship game, Smart could be splitting his time for more than a month.
Smart has started to build his staff. The first member of the staff emerged through social media. Glenn Schumann, the former Alabama personnel director and defensive analyst, changed the personal information on his Twitter account to show his new job as Georgia assistant football coach.
Schumann said on his Twitter feed “Great day to be a Georgia Bulldog.” He added “Wheels up” to indicate he’s already recruiting for Smart.
Smart wouldn’t say if his staff will include Scott Cochran, Alabama’s head strength and conditioning coach.
“Right now Scott Cochran is working for the University of Alabama and he’s doing the best job he can there,” Smart said. “He’s trying to win a national championship. I can’t answer that.”
Smart said Cochran is “a good friend.” Cochran could help install a strength and conditioning system based on Alabama’s plan in much the same way Richt brought his close friend, Dave Van Halanger, from Florida State as strength coach in 2000.
Van Halanger’s demanding offseason mat drills were borrowed from Florida State’s system and were seen as a key to Georgia winning SEC championships in 2002 and 2005.
Smart wouldn’t say how quickly he hopes to fill his staff. He wouldn’t speculate on retaining current Georgia assistants.
Interim head coach Bryan McClendon, the wide receivers coach, is heading the staff for Georgia’s TaxSlayer Bowl game against Penn State.
“It’s a very fluid situation, constantly moving and changing,” Smart said. “I won’t put any timetables on anything.”