If you haven’t read the interview Kirby Smart did with ESPN’s Chris Low yet, I suggest doing so. It’s a good read and it has plenty of optimism to get you excited.
However, the part that stuck with me most was not the “Glory, Glory” cry of a Georgia Boy’s return home to coach his alma mater –although that’s a lovely angle–but, rather, the perception Smart relayed about some of the fanbase’s belief that the Bulldogs suffered an “entitlement” problem toward the end of Mark Richt’s tenure.
One of the things Smart has heard most from fans, other than their frustration with the championship drought, is that the program has become stale.
“They want passion and energy in the players,” Smart said. “They want passion and energy out of the coaches. They want humility too. A lot of the fans have been like, ‘We’re tired of our players feeling like they’re entitled when they really haven’t done anything.’ [emphasis added] Their complaint is, ‘We won 10 games, but who did we beat?’ (Chris Low, ESPN)
I’ve pretty much heard (and relayed) the “yeah …but who did we beat?” argument plenty. It ran in tandem with the yearly expectation that Georgia would find a way to lose a critical game against someone they “should beat”–that was something you came to accept as a Georgia fan.
It was no longer if but when.
How much of that was about a group that was entitled, and feasting too much on its own praise, is debatable. Equally as much could be said about a team that became so embattled, it lost its way, and started clinging to the wrong things as a sign of success.
I will hardly make excuses for Georgia’s not winning more championships. The opportunities were there, but if you believe in such a thing as a self-fulfilling prophecy, then it wouldn’t be a stretch to believe the Bulldogs started buying into the nonsense.
The one where they had a coach who lacked a “killer instinct”.
The one where the national expectation of you is built on two possibilities: failure and falling short.
The one where even a taste of success places you in a panic so severe that your fanbase starts wondering when the other shoe is going to drop.
At some point, Georgia stopped being the darling, and started looking like the goat–no matter the scenario–and people stopped believing.
You can debate the last few points with me, and I have little doubt you’d find some fantastic counter-points. However, my final argument is definitive: if things hadn’t come to that, Kirby Smart wouldn’t be here.
Such disappointment can certainly take the shape of entitlement. And, no doubt, the actions of some of the highly-touteds who’ve come and gone (a fair number to dismissals or transfer) along the way didn’t help matters.
However, I will say this about the entitlement perception: what consistently winning team isn’t a bit full of itself–rightfully or not?
When you play in the SEC, and are told weekly what hot shit you are (excuse my language) by your fan base, you have a tendency to feel as if you’re doing enough to warrant the attention. And even if they’re ragging on you, all you have to do is step onto your campus to feel like a king.
Such attitudes aren’t talked about when you’re hoisting trophies and winning conference championships, but when you’re breaking hearts, some of your fans will become your critics. Suddenly they’re wondering if you’re not too hung up on the attention to realize you’ve not done nearly enough to be deserving of its receipt?
Hence the idea of being entitled.
Are Georgia’s players guilty of it? I can’t say for sure, but the fact that the new staff has had to reintroduce a more tireless work ethic says a lot about how embedded such an ideal might have been–clearly some of the players wanted the glory without being responsible for putting in the grit.
On the other hand, there’s just as much to be said about a team that may have lost its ability to feel like it could win. A team so embattled that just reaching the “10 win” mark, and going to a bowl game, was enough.
In other words, the responsibility for that entitlement is a discussion unto itself.
End of the day, Smart has so much to prove (to himself and those same fans), that he doesn’t has time for anyone not willing to lay it on the line. He’s here to do the work and, hopefully, reap the rewards.
If that happens, himself, the Georgia football program, and its fanbase will be entitled to something it hasn’t received in a long time …genuine respect.