ATHENS, Ga. — Kirby Smart just looks more rested, more comfortable.
He isn’t quite gliding across his office’s threshold, but he has a little more bounce in his steps as spring practice nears the finish line following his debut 8-5 season as Georgia’s head coach.
After an up-and-down start, Smart is learning a lot more about his team and himself and is liking what he’s seeing. Georgia, which will most likely be the media favorite in the SEC East this season, is far from a finished product, but Smart and his players are way ahead of where they were at this point last year.
When you have 10 starting defenders returning, possibly two phenom quarterbacks taking snaps alongside two 1,000-yard backs, and a much-improved offensive line, things slow down more for a head coach. And when some of the “bad apples” who didn’t think they played enough have moved on, you tend to get more done.
“This team, this group is sold on what our staff and what myself believe in,” Smart told ESPN last week. “We’re in a better place.
“I like this team a lot better, too.”
And the hope is that Georgia fans will, too.
Year 2 has seen some banner years for SEC coaches. Urban Meyer and Gene Chizik won national championships in their second seasons at Florida and Auburn, respectively. Nick Saban won 10 games and the SEC in his second year at LSU then later led an undefeated Alabama team to the SEC championship game in year two in 2008.
Les Miles won 11 games in his second season at LSU (2006), as did Will Muschamp at Florida (2012). And Georgia fans won’t forget Mark Richt winning the SEC in his second season (2002).
With the SEC East still unstable, Smart could be staring Atlanta in the face, but he’s also building the right way. He just signed the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class, which featured 18 ESPN 300 members and four five-star prospects. He loaded…