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Why Greg McGarity felt it was the right time to pay Kirby Smart

In an exclusive interview with 11Alive on Tuesday, McGarity said he felt like it was time to reward Smart.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Two years into Kirby Smart's tenure at Georgia, Athletic Director Greg McGarity felt like it was time to reward his head football coach.

Last week, Smart signed a seven-year contract extension worth roughly $49 million, according to UGA Athletics. Smart, who was two years into a six-year deal that had the new head coach making about $3.75 million per year, is now signed through the 2024 football season and ranks in the top five of the highest-paid head football coaches.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Smart took the Bulldogs to the Rose Bowl and national championship in his second season. This offseason, he saw the No. 1 recruiting class in the country sign with the Bulldogs.

In an exclusive interview with 11Alive on Tuesday, McGarity said he felt like it was time to reward Smart.

"I think it sends a clear message and appreciation for what Kirby’s done in such a short amount of time," McGarity said.

It wasn't something Georgia necessarily needed to do immediately, but it does help insure longevity in the program. Smart's buyout inevitably decreased year-by-year, and and his old contract ranked No. 23 in terms of salary, according to an analysis conducted by USA TODAY Sports. A new deal makes it increasingly difficult for a program to attempt to steal him away from his alma mater.

"It takes awhile to get those things done. It wasn’t an urgent need to get it done, but we did want to get it done as quickly as we could. It’s just a very busy time with recruiting season and just a lot of things going on where you can certainly focus on things at a certain time," McGarity said.

In a statement released by the University, Smart said he knew there is still work to be done despite the quick success.

"I do not take lightly the awesome responsibility of leading this program, and while I’m pleased with where we are as a program, I couldn’t be more excited about where we’re going in the future," Smart said. "You can rest assured that we will continue to work tirelessly to make Georgia football the best it can possibly be."

The pressure is on Smart to deliver. He almost did this past season if it hadn't been for his old boss, Nick Saban, and a ridiculous move to put in a freshman quarterback to start the second half of the national championship. That freshman, Tua Tagovailoa, helped Alabama rally to win in overtime.

Regardless, the belief was that Smart and Georgia were ahead of schedule. With a new deal, there's no telling how many titles McGarity expects Smart to accumulate. He claims there's no master plan, and he doesn't have to tell Smart what the ultimate goal is.

"There really is no plan. It’s just to get better and maximize your ability to improve everyday and that’s really been the mantra from Kirby from day one."

**Other notable moments from 11Alive's interview with McGarity

- McGarity said the west end zone renovation at Sanford Stadium is on time and on budget. He believes it will be done in July, which will give them 4-6 weeks to break it in before the start of the 2018 college football season.

- McGarity is thrilled with new men's basketball head coach Tom Crean and the energy he's brought to UGA basketball weeks after getting hired: "He just never stops. He has sort of really accepted his role as far as what he needs to do to promote the game, to sell the game [and] sell the game to the students."

-On expectations for Crean: "I’m certainly not one to say it’s a requirement to be in the NCAA tournament. These guys know it. They are here at the University of Georgia to compete at the highest level. You never really have to get into those discussions. I’m a patient person, as long as we see things going in the right direction, which I’m sure Tom will do. I’m sure we’ll be fine. There’s no measurements that you put on anything that early."

- McGarity is excited to see his belief in baseball coach Scott Stricklin is paying off. Read more about that here.