Kirby Smart, Brian Kelly Believe Less Is More With NCAA Transfer Portal

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The NCAA Transfer Portal is the Star Trek version of roster management in the college football world.

For those of you in the portal – more than 500 college football “student-athletes” as of Monday when the gates opened – too young to know what Star Trek is, it was a pioneering science fiction series from the 1960s that was rebooted eight times since. “Strange New Worlds” is the latest version that’s now streaming.

The portal itself is streaming like nothing on television. There could be 1,000 players in it within weeks, or even by next week. Most are backups and reserves, but many are also established starters entering their sport’s final frontier. They all want to seek out new football life by voyaging to new programs – or football civilizations. They want to boldly go where several hundred young men have gone before – like last year when some 3,000 voyaged before the entire cycle over several months ended.

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“It’s why the call it a portal,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said as he prepared for lift-off on Dec. 5 and laughed at his reference to the iconic space series. “They beam you up onto campus.”

Not all campuses, though.

“Scotty, beam us up,” or versions of that, Captain Kirk would tell chief engineer Montgomery Scott in the TV series when he wanted to be transported back into the starship Enterprise.

“Don’t beam anyone up,” says Captain Kirby Smart, who is Georgia’s football coach.

Personnel Maintenance At Georgia Is Different

Georgia’s current roster includes zero players acquired from the NCAA Transfer Portal. And it is not like Smart could not get as many as he wants. It’s just that he has recruited from high schools so well, he has not needed transfers to go 13-0 this season after winning the 2021 national championship at 14-1 with only three transfers.

The No. 1 Bulldogs play No. 4 Ohio State (11-1) in the College Football Playoff national semifinals on Dec. 31 at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta (8 p.m., ESPN). That winner plays the winner of No. 2 Michigan (13-0) and No. 3 TCU (12-1), which play on Dec. 31 at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona (4 p.m., ESPN).

“I don’t know if it has been more enjoyable,” Smart said before the portal opened. “But I think that there is a lot of thought that that is the way to success. It certainly can help you, but it can hurt you.”

LSU coach Brian Kelly dipped heavily into the NCAA Transfer Portal in his first season with the Tigers in 2022, but he plans to pick and choose more selectively going into the 2023 season. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

That is also the philosophy of first-year LSU coach Brian Kelly. And that from a coach who desperately needed the NCAA Transfer Portal at LSU after leaving Notre Dame following the 2021 season. The Tigers had only 39 players on scholarship in its Texas Bowl loss to Kansas State last Jan. 4. Kelly tapped 24 players from the portal for the 2022 season, including star quarterback Jayden Daniels from Arizona State.

He is expected to add only about half a dozen from the portal for the 2023 season after winning the SEC West in his first season. The No. 17 Tigers (9-4) play Purdue (8-5) in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 2 (1 p.m., ABC).

Building A Roster The Old-Fashioned Way

“You have to be very careful with the portal, because chemistry is still the one thing that can really upset a locker room,” Kelly said. “And finding the right guys and making sure they’re good teammates. Just because they’re great players doesn’t make them great teammates. You still have to have 11 guys that trust each other and are accountable to each other. And sometimes you can’t find that through watching film.”

Kelly still believes in the old-fashioned way of building a roster. His recruiting class of 2023 is ranked No. 6 in the nation by 247 sports.

“You’ve got to get to know them and you don’t get that opportunity through the transfer portal,” he said. “I don’t know that anybody really wants to develop their program strictly through the portal. It’s still about player development. It’s still about knowing the guys and building them through the culture of your program.”

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It’s not called the NCAA Culture Portal. If coaches can build a strong culture through years at one school, or one year in Kelly’s case, then they can add through the portal here and there.

It’s The NCAA Transfer Portal … Not The Culture Portal

“My philosophy as to how I think the portal can be managed is you can top the tank off with it,” Kelly said. “But your base – most of the tank – has to be through player development of freshmen. And then you can bring in guys because they are going to assimilate to the culture that has been built. You don’t want the transfer portal to set the culture. Because they don’t know what it is.”

That would be a culture of constant beaming in and out, so to speak.

“Because building culture takes too long,” Kelly said. “I think the transfer portal is great, but you have to understand that it’s best for filling in some needed positions. You have to have the base of your program built already through freshmen recruiting.”

The Smart way is the overly selective way.

“It’s getting the right ones,” Smart said. “It’s not how many or any. It’s ‘Does the guy fit your culture?’”

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

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