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ATLANTA – Georgia football coach Kirby Smart has seen the videos, not necessarily from a Blockbuster Video store, but he has seen them. He has also lived them.
Smart was 28 when he became a defensive backs coach at LSU in 2004 – just after the Tigers won the 2003 national championship under coach Nick Saban. And LSU fell to 9-3 from 13-1.
He was Alabama’s defensive backs coach in the 2009 season when the Tide won its first national title under Saban. And Alabama fell to 10-3 from 14-0.
Smart won back-to-back national championships at Alabama in the 2011 and ’12 seasons as defensive coordinator and another in 2015. He became Georgia’s head coach after that season.
Defending National Champions Tend To Fight Their Own Ego
Complacency, overconfidence and ego hurt that 2004 LSU and that 2010 Alabama teams in addition to some departing talent. It also hurt the 2007 national champions at LSU, who fell to 8-5 from 12-2 and the 2019 national champs at LSU, who nosedived from 15-0 to 5-5.
So far, Smart and his No. 1 Bulldogs (13-0) have avoided any downfall after winning the national championship last season with a 33-18 win over defending national champion Alabama. Georgia plays No. 4 Ohio State (11-1) here at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN) in a national semifinal.
No. 2 Michigan (13-0) plays No. 3 TCU (12-1) in the other semifinal Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN) in Glendale, Arizona.
“That is one of the big things that we took last year to move a step forward,” Smart said at the SEC Media Days here last July. “Connect with your brother and be humble. Don’t have an ego.”
Georgia is still trying to be humble, but that can be hard. It is just one win from playing Michigan or TCU for a second consecutive national championship on January 9 in Inglewood, California. No college football team has won back-to-back national titles since Alabama in 2011 and ’12.
Smart has studied why there have been so few repeat national champions in college football. USC won a share of one in 2003 and another in 2004. Before that, it was Nebraska in 1994-95, and Alabama in 1978 and ’79.
“We have a couple in-house sports psychologists that we talked with about how the mighty fall,” Smart said Friday at the CFP semifinal coaches’ press conference at the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel.
Blockbuster Video Let Hubris Defeat It
Smart and his team didn’t just study football teams, though.
“We looked at some business structures, the Blockbuster model, and some different models, where ego got the best of organizations in the business and corporate world,” he said.
Blockbuster dominated the home movie rental business for decades. But by 2014 all stores had shut down except one in Bend, Oregon, that is privately owned.
“Blockbuster couldn’t see past its previous success to see the change on the horizon, and then once it did, it was too slow to react,” retail expert Tricia McKinnon wrote last March.
“The past is your ego,” Smart said. “We can’t control last year. We can’t do anything on last year. We can only look forward. Be where our feet are at, and that’s now.”
The Alabama experience helped Smart. So did the fact that a large chunk of the talent from his 2021 Georgia team did not have to fight ego or complacency at Georgia. Because the Bulldogs set an NFL record with 15 selections in the 2022 NFL Draft, including five in the first round.
“I had experiences at Alabama, and I knew the kind of year it would be,” he said. “It’s always a little tougher to bring everybody back to home base. It was much easier for us this year, because we had so many players leave. And we had a hungrier young team.”