ATHENS, Ga. — When Kirby Smart got the job as Georgia’s head coach after nine years on the Alabama staff under Nick Saban, Bulldog nation rejoiced.
After all, with four national championship rings as the Crimson Tide defensive coordinator, Smart learned from the best during his stint in Tuscaloosa.
He’s not exactly like his former boss, though.
“What you have success with, you feel comfortable with, you always rely on that a little bit,” Smart said at SEC media days. “I’ve certainly got to be who I am. Our personalities are the not the same, Coach Saban and I.
“Certainly there’s a great deal learned over the last 11 years. Ways to handle certain situations, ways to handle players, ways to improve your team. That will always stay with me. There’s certainly differences as well, and those are important to me.”
Smart is much more Steve Spurrier than he is Saban, complete with a self-deprecating sense of humor, a brutal honesty toward his players and a laid-back mentality that complements his coaching style in a way that players appreciate.
“He’s not a Saban clone, nor does he need to be,” former Bulldog and current ESPN analyst Matt Stinchcomb said. “The only thing that he’s looking to replicate exactly are championship seasons at a consistent baseis. If he can sponge that out of his experience with Saban, then that’s the takeaway.”
Smart’s voice as a head coach was one of the last questions lingering about his merits for the job. Limited as a coordinator to one appearance in front of the media during fall camp and mandatory appearances at bowl games, Smart had plenty of time to soak up the finer points of Saban’s system while also preparing to be his own man once he found the right spot to pursue his head coaching career.
“If a coach is trying to be somebody that he’s not, he gets found out very quickly,” Stinchcomb said. “But he can still go about his business, build the program in similar ways and use tenants that have worked in other programs. That’s what’s happening at the University of Georgia right now. It’s just being delivered with a different personality in the front.”
That personality was something that was apparent way back when he was a star safety for the Bulldogs from 1995-1998.
“He’s a very genuine guy who comes from a good family and cares about people,” Jim Donnan, Smart’s head coach during his playing days, said. “He’s very outgoing. When he was here, he was in a fraternity, worked in the business school in a bunch of areas and always seemed to be around campus.”
That outgoing personality carried over to his coaching career.
When he was hired to be a running backs coach on Mark Richt‘s staff in 2005, he provided plenty of ammo to eager quarterbacks looking for the latest gossip on other assistants—including quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo.
“I used to always try to get dirt on Bobo, and Kirby would tell me ‘I can’t tell you everything, but I can tell you some things,'” former quarterback D.J. Shockley said. “He used to tell me how they went out, had fun and had the linemen go out and protect Bobo because he liked to have a good time.
“That’s unusual coming from coaches talking about their time in a similar environment that you’re living. It made you look at them like they’re human, that these guys had fun just like us. For him to share that stuff with us, it made us feel good.”
The happy-go-lucky nature of Smart’s demeanor wasn’t spoiled by nearly a decade under the watchful eye of Saban. In fact, the coaches on that staff—particularly Florida head coach and former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain—banded together when things got hairy during meetings.
“I sat side by side [with McElwain] in staff meetings,” Smart said at SEC media days. “None of you guys have been privy to a Nick Saban staff meeting, but when you are, you have to hold hands sometimes. He’s been my ‘Kumbaya guy’ sometimes.”
Smart is also a guy who isn’t football 24/7/365.
“Second only to [Arkansas head coach] Bret Bielema—who has given us plenty of evidence that he knows how to unwind,” Stinchcomb said, “Kirby would be up there among the guys who you could safely share a basket of wings with and not worry about getting your eyebrows blow-torched off.”
Smart is a hybrid of sorts—half-Saban from a football perspective and half-Spurrier personality-wise.
Complete with the visor, the Southern drawl and all.
“Nick Saban can be a little intimidating sometimes, but you know [former Georgia coach] Mark Richt was real nice and down to earth,” 5-star quarterback Trevor Lawrence told DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell. “[Smart’s] just kind of a mixture of both of that. It makes him real easy to talk to.”
In the end, the only similarity between Smart and his former boss that Georgia fans care about is the success. If Saban’s process is the only thing that came with Smart to Athens, then Bulldog nation is in good hands.
“Coach Smart obviously has high expectations, as we always do at UGA,” offensive lineman Brandon Kublanow said. “I think he’s going to do a great job. He’s an amazing coach; he’s done an amazing job so far during the transition, and I’m really excited to play for him.”
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Source: Bleacher Report-CFB News