Timing is everything. So hopefully Georgia officials were too busy backing up Brink’s truck to hear what Kirby Smart had to say during SEC Media Days in Atlanta.
While they were finalizing details on Smart’s new contract, his coach was again lobbying to move the Florida-Georgia game out of Jacksonville.
Of course, it’s hard to ignore the person you’ll be paying $112.5 million over the next 10 years. So when word of Smart’s stump speech got back to Athens, Georgia administrators quietly shook their heads and whispered, “Kirby is Kirby.”
Please, dogs. Give him another $15 million in unmarked NIL bills. Name a new variety of peach after him.
Don’t let Smart talk you into moving the Florida-Georgia game.
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Don’t spoil this tradition
Or is it Georgia-Florida?
It largely depends on which state you live in. Although I grew up in Jacksonville, I was never convinced that the city was south of the state line.
When the conversation turned to football, it seemed as though there were as many Bulldogs as Gators who would get in. That made Jacksonville the perfect location for a frontier battle.
Georgia fans invade the holiday islands just north of the border. RVs appear 96 hours before kickoff. Downtown is overrun with partiers who observe a (mostly) friendly détente.
I know I sound like an old man yelling at Kirby to get off my Duval County lawn, but seeing half the stadium in red-black and the other half in orange-blue is quite a sight.
Georgia-Florida in Jacksonville is a — and pardon my nostalgia — tradition.
Do you remember them?
Given the upheaval in college sports and society, probably not. But I’m old enough to remember that USC didn’t schedule conference games in New Jersey. I fear the day is coming when Gator fans will sing, “We’re the Zees from Old Florida.”
The Georgia-Florida game has been played in Jacksonville since 1933. Apart from a 1943 break for World War II, the only break came in the mid-1990s when the stadium underwent two years of reconstruction.
The crew dug up a bathroom that contained two passed-out guys with long beards. They revived and immediately yelled that Doug Dickey should be sacked on fourth down at the Gator 29-yard line.
Sports on campus were interesting. Florida fans will be forever grateful Spurrier was allowed to hang a “half-hundred” on the Bulldogs in Athens in 1995. But mostly, they felt like one more big game on the season schedule.
Nothing is more important than recruiting some coaches
Smart was the new safety on that ’95 team. You’d think he’d have a soft spot for the antagonist, but that’s not what makes Kirby Kirby.
He is a coaching automaton. A guy who works 140 hour weeks and lives in constant fear that somewhere a rival coach is cutting game tape at 3 a.m. and outdoing him.
When it comes to such work, nothing is more important than recruitment. Smart will schedule Christmas if Moultrie’s three-star cornerback is prevented from sending a message.
He’s convinced nothing impresses recruits like watching a big home game. Playing in Jacksonville means one less SEC game at Sanford Stadium.
“It’s an opportunity for us to bring in these kids who fly in from all over the country,” Smart said. “What sport do they come to Georgia to play? They want to see Georgia play Florida, but they can’t.”
That doesn’t seem to have hurt Georgia’s recruiting lately, but who knows? If last year’s Florida game had been between the hedges, maybe Arch Manning would have committed to the Dawgs. That subtle possibility bothers people like Smart.
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But if big home games are so important, why did Georgia sign on for neutral-site games against Oregon this year and Clemson in 2024? There’s also money to consider, especially when you’re paying your head coach around $11 million a year.
UF makes roughly $6 million to $7 million on home games, but zero on road games. Both teams pocket about $4.5 million a year from Jacksonville, so they would lose at least $1 million a year if they went home-to-home.
That current contract runs through 2023, with two option years. What are the chances that this will be the last deal and leave Jacksonville in 2026?
“No one in their administration has brought this up to us,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said Friday.
If they do, let’s hope it’s just for Kirby’s joke. He is an excellent coach and worth every penny of his new contract. But he needs to realize that there really is more to life and college football than recruiting.
– David Whitley is a sports columnist for the Gainesville Sun. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley