ATHENS, Ga. — Had Kirby Smart not made Nick Saban a promise proper earlier than Smart left to interview for the open head-coaching job at Auburn in 2012, who is aware of what the SEC teaching panorama would appear like proper now?
For that matter, Smart would possibly even be on the house sideline Saturday on the Plains when Auburn and Georgia renew the Deep South’s oldest rivalry.
Either manner, Smart is glad that he made that promise.
“I promised [Saban] that I would stay on at Alabama to coach through the national championship game if I got the job,” Smart informed ESPN. “It was important to me to finish what I started.”
Ultimately, Auburn employed Gus Malzahn, and one of many elements working towards Smart, a number of sources informed ESPN, was that Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs wasn’t comfy with Smart being the Auburn head coach and pulling double responsibility because the Alabama defensive coordinator for the subsequent month.
“The others on the search committee [Bo Jackson and Pat Sullivan] were good with it, I think, but I don’t think Jay could ever get past the thought of the Auburn coach coaching at Alabama for another month and all that went into that,” Smart stated. “I get that, and the truth is it worked out the way it was supposed to. My experience is that it usually does.”
He would not get any argument from the red-and-black-coated plenty at Georgia. Smart, in his second season because the Dawgs’ head coach, has his alma mater unbeaten, No. 1 within the College Football Playoff rankings and completely killing it on the recruiting path. It’s the primary time Georgia has been No. 1 in both of the foremost polls or the CFP rankings in the course of the season since 1982. For perspective, Herschel Walker was nonetheless “running over people” between the hedges in ’82.
Smart, who spent 11 seasons working below Saban at Alabama, LSU and the Miami Dolphins, has by no means been one to get forward of himself, and he is not about to start out now.
“They don’t measure races at the 60-, 70- or 80-meter mark. They do at the finish, and that’s our goal,” Smart stated final week following the Dawgs’ 24-10 win over South Carolina.
He was clearly speaking about this season, however there’s the larger image, too.
“I tell our kids all the time that humility is just a week away, and that goes for our entire program,” Smart stated. “We’re not there yet, not even close. We’ve made progress and are continuing to make progress in a lot of areas. We’ve got good players, and I love the way our kids are working and have bought in. But we don’t have the kind of players Alabama has. They’re the standard, and we’ve got to keep recruiting better players, developing those players and coaching them.”
The irony that it is Auburn this week for Georgia is not misplaced on Smart, who says the No. 10 Tigers would be the Dawgs’ hardest check of the season. And, sure, Georgia received at No. three Notre Dame the second week of the season.
“They’ve got the best defense we’ve faced and a quarterback [Jarrett Stidham] who throws it as well as anybody we’ve faced,” Smart stated. “That’s my focus — not what might have been or what might not have been five years ago when I interviewed for the job.”
If he feels like his previous boss, it isn’t a coincidence. Smart labored nearer and longer with Saban than any of the opposite present head coaches who’ve branched out from Saban’s teaching tree. Smart is as aware of Saban’s “Process” as anyone.
“The most important thing I took from him was holding everybody’s feet to the fire, holding everybody accountable, and that goes for every single meeting, every single drill, every single practice and every single day,” stated Smart, who was with Saban for one season at LSU in 2004, one season with the Miami Dolphins in 2006 after which 9 seasons at Alabama from 2007 to 2015.
“You take on what’s right in front of you and don’t get caught up in everything else.”
It’s exactly that mindset that landed Smart his dream job. He saved his head down and labored, grinded and realized all these years below Saban and paid little consideration to the increasing narrative that his head-coaching window may need closed.
He admittedly was selective and handed on a number of smaller head-coaching alternatives and likewise handed on alternatives to return to Georgia as Mark Richt’s defensive coordinator.
“I knew the right one would come,” stated Smart, who will flip 42 in December. “I did not essentially know it will be this one. This was my faculty and the one which meant essentially the most to me, however I had an excellent job making some huge cash at top-of-the-line applications within the nation and dealing for the most effective coach within the nation.
“I did not care what anyone else thought, that I ought to take a head job at a smaller faculty after which work my manner up. I did not care that folks have been saying our defensive success at Alabama was actually Saban’s success. None of that bothered me. I used to be going to do the most effective job I might do the place I used to be and belief that it was all going to work out.”
It helped that Smart was the son of a coach. His father, Sonny, was a longtime highschool coach in Georgia and coached Smart at Bainbridge High School.
“My father was a defensive coordinator earlier than he was a head coach, and that is what I at all times wished to be, a defensive coordinator within the SEC,” Smart said. “Growing up, I realized from him that the most effective job is the one you might have, and that is the one you set your entire power and focus into. I by no means checked out it like my profession can be unfulfilling if I did not grow to be a head coach at a sure place or by a sure time. I used to be too busy teaching.”
Smart understood unequivocally what the stakes have been when he took the Georgia job. His predecessor, Mark Richt, was fired regardless of a profitable share over 15 seasons (.740) that ranks first amongst all Georgia head coaches. But what Richt hadn’t performed was win an SEC championship in a decade. Smart, in his second season, already has the Dawgs headed to Atlanta for a Dec. 2 date within the SEC championship sport, however he did not come again to his alma mater to play for championships. He got here again to win them.
He’s teaching and recruiting that manner.
To open the sport towards South Carolina, Georgia tried an onside kick. The Dawgs did not get well, and Smart was requested about it after the sport. His reply solely fueled Dawg Nation’s hearth.
“I do not wish to be the hunted. I wish to hunt,” Smart stated.
It’s been the same story on the recruiting entrance. Georgia had greater than 100 prospects on campus for the South Carolina sport, and it was a who’s who on the Dawgs’ sideline earlier than the sport. The prime prospects from Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee and each Carolinas have been in attendance, and the Dawgs have already got dedicated on this clbad the nation’s prime quarterback and No. 1 total prospect (Justin Fields) and the nation’s prime working again (Zamir White), based on ESPN’s rankings.
“Players see what we have got going right here and the place Coach Smart is taking us,” Georgia senior running back Sony Michel said. “They wish to be part of that. Why would not you?”
Smart coached below Richt at Georgia as working backs coach in 2005, and Smart stated they nonetheless be in contact.
“They do not come any finer than coach Richt,” Smart said. “I nonetheless discuss to him some, and it says a lot about him the way in which he is continued to badist the children on this group and badist Georgia. The cabinet wasn’t naked after we bought right here. Now, we needed to go signal a quarterback, however we had gamers. I do know quite a lot of new coaches discuss on a regular basis about how they do not have sufficient good gamers after they get there, however I can let you know this place was in higher form than Alabama was after we bought there in 2007.”
One of the principle causes Georgia is taken into account top-of-the-line head-coaching job in America is the wealth of expertise within the state. But as Smart factors out, everyone everywhere in the nation is attempting to recruit the state of Georgia, which makes relationships and pinpoint evaluations much more necessary.
“We’ve bought ensure we take the fitting gamers, and typically which means telling good gamers from this state that we do not have room for them,” Smart stated.
Additionally, there have been 29 gamers chosen within the 2017 NFL draft who performed highschool soccer in Georgia. None of these gamers completed their careers with the Dawgs, though cornerback Brendan Langley and security Josh Harvey-Clemons began there and transferred elsewhere, Langley to Lamar and Harvey-Clemons to Louisville.
“You’ve bought to make onerous choices, however that is not a foul downside to have,” stated Smart, who shrugs on the thought that the Dawgs is perhaps additional alongside total than most individuals anticipated in his second season.
“I am not going to sit down right here and say I anticipated us to be No. 1 [in the rankings], however it would not actually matter the place we’re ranked proper now.”
Spoken like somebody who is aware of just a little one thing in regards to the “Process” and is content material to let that course of run its course.