ATHENS — Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said he understands Kirby Smart is paid to win football games.
But Curry is paid to help the city of Jacksonville make money, and that means doing whatever it takes to allow Georgia Florida to play in Jacksonville, 340 miles from Athens.
“Coaches have a job to do which is to win football games and at that level it’s all about recruitment so I get it,” Curry told 1010XL on Friday.
“And I understand where the coach (Kirby Smart) wants to go.”
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But Curry pointed out that he’s successfully negotiated with Georgia since being sworn in in 2015, working things out with former Bulldogs AD and current Gator Bowl president Greg McGarity.
McGarity enjoyed 44 years of successful administration in Georgia and Florida, where he built a great appreciation for the game, which is currently under contract through the 2023 season.
Smart, who hails from South Georgia and played in the Jacksonville Rivalry game, has won four out of six games against the Gators as head coach.
Georgia is yet to derail the Alabama dynasty, however, with Tide winning the SEC title game 41-24 before the Bulldogs rebounded with a 33-18 CFP title game win.
Smart, who now ranks as the highest-paid coach on a 10-year, $112.5 million contract, told the SEC Network last week that not having recruits in games against the biggest puts the Georgia football program at a disadvantage Rivals of the program can accommodate .
“It would be like saying in June there are four weekends that you can have prospects on campus, but in Georgia you can only have three,” Smart said.
“That’s how it is, (like) I sanction myself the opportunity to have the best prospects in the country, fly to Atlanta and drive over every two years to watch Georgia play Florida.”
Curry said he understands Smart’s plight, but his priority is taking care of the Jacksonville community, which would generate an estimated $35 million in economic impact from the game in 2018.
“Kirby Smart values the recruitment, as he should. He will fight for what he believes is the best interest in recruiting football players for his football team,” Curry said.
“We think there’s a balance there and both schools have great recruiting opportunities here in Jacksonville and we’re going to fight to keep this football game here, nurturing relationships with the athletic directors and every single donor and booster at both universities. “
Curry was asked if it would just boil down to offering more money to the Georgia government.
“You could weigh all the factors that contribute to this,” Curry said. “Money is probably one of the most heavily weighted factors in everything.”
All in all, Curry hinted that Jacksonville may have to concede a game to Athens as TIAA Bank Field undergoes major renovations.
Matt Hayes, an award-winning journalist who hosts shows on 1010XL, asked Curry if it was possible one of the Georgia-Florida games could be played in Athens while TIAA Stadium is being renovated – no dates have been set yet – , before Jacksonville made a successful bid to bring it back.
“I think you make a good point like I’m in a poker game right now. I don’t want to show my hand in this interview, as much as I’d like to break the news,” Curry said.
“But I think you make a big point there, I think all options should be up for discussion,” Curry said.
“I didn’t get the point across, you did, but it sounds interesting.”
The current deal essentially nets Florida and Georgia an additional $3.5 million, according to AJC.
New Georgia athletic director Josh Brooks said at the SEC spring meetings that UGA had not looked closely at exercising the game’s two-year extension because there was still plenty of time left to do so.
That seems to indicate that Jacksonville will have to renegotiate a new overtime, or this season’s game could be the last designated home game Georgia plays in Jacksonville.
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin has hinted that the Gators will play their scheduled home game against Georgia in Jacksonville.