More than a month after winning the National Championship against Alabama, Georgia’s Kirby Smart finally had time to reflect on the win and the stories surrounding it. Smart joined legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski on his ‘Basketball and Beyond‘ podcast to discuss the game, the quarterback challenge he faced in 2021 and more.
The Bulldogs had all the talent to make a run at the title entering the season, but a setback at the quarterback position could’ve derailed everything if it weren’t for former walk-on Stetson Bennett. Bennett started the season as the 3rd stringer but was forced into action after an injury to starter JT Daniels, putting the chances of Georgia winning the title on his shoulders.
Bennett will be a legend in Athens for the rest of his life after he led his team to the win in Indianapolis, but how he got there was stunning to Krzyzewski.
“He was a walk-on?,” Krzyzewski said. “Like, come on, man. Is that Rudy or what the heck? How the hell did this happen?”
“Well, he was a little bit better than Rudy, I’ll say that,” Smart said. “He was a recruited walk-on, no offense to Rudy. I’ve watched that movie several times.”
Smart admitted that no SEC team offered Bennett coming out of high school. He was a walk-on at Georgia but then went to play juco ball for a year. This was when Justin Fields entered the program, and Jake Fromm was already on the roster.
Bennett then transferred back to Georgia, this time on a scholarship, to play back up to Fromm.
“(Bennett) left and went to junior college and I told him to he would get more experience and he would get more offers by going to junior college. And it worked out great for him to come back to Georgia. He’s a tremendous kid.”
Kirby added that Bennett’s size didn’t matter because he could hold his own, even after transferring out for a year.
“He’s a really good quarterback. He just wasn’t very big. And more and more in football, the pocket is moving. You’re seeing the Kyler Murrays and you’re seeing these guys be successful. And we watched him in high school and said, ‘This man is a really good football player and (we’d) love to have him.’”
After the national title win, Bennett decided he would return to Georgia and try to lead the Bulldogs to another championship. He has already cemented his legacy, but the opportunity to give it one more go as the starting quarterback was something he couldn’t turn down, especially with the NIL money he will make this season.
But for Krzyzewski, Bennett’s character is what stands out the most.
“God gave him a big heart,” Krzyzewski said, “and courage. He got knocked on his butt a lot, and whatever. He stood in there, and I loved what he did.”
Smart couldn’t agree more.
“What does it say about his character that he stuck around and he kept working to get better? That’s what you’re supposed to do in life, overcome hurdles and obstacles and he’s done that.”
Outside of Bennett, Krzyzewski talked about how impressed he was with the Georgia fanbase and the amount of support the program gets from their loyal following.
“You have an amazing program and fan base, a lot of people own it. And what I saw in you was your ability to share it. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
The joy that we all saw from Kirby Smart has been brewing for a while, especially given the opportunities he has had to win championships at other schools as an assistant coach. But he always wondered what it would feel like to win as a head coach, especially at his alma mater.
“I guess you go through those times of doubt of not knowing. And, you know, some people, they coach a long time and they’re not fortunate to be at places where they have realistic possibilities of winning a national championship,” Smart said. “I think coming to my alma mater where I played and my wife played basketball, so when you get into the side of it where it’s, like, really personal, and there was a long 41-year gap between winning the last one in football. It just, it made it that much more special to realize that, you know, I’d won several at Alabama (as an assistant), but we had also been denied by Alabama of some opportunities.”
Krzyzewski then pointed out how beautiful it was to see Smart take in and savor the moment of winning a championship with his team.
“Watching you on that night, the emotion, I know you were trying to express yourself but, to me, how you expressed yourself with your face, with your actions, it was beautiful, Kirby.”
Smart has learned from the best, but is now working to build his own legacy in college football. The 2021 season was a fantastic start, and he will have the opportunity in 2022 to continue building. For Kirby, it’s all about the players and continuing to build character in each one of them as they set out to win another championship this season.
The fun begins with spring practice next month when this new team will look to build their own identity.