Ex-Bulldogs Smart, Muschamp match wits in Georgia-SCarolina

Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp have been friends since they played safety for the Georgia Bulldogs. Now the two coaches are set to meet for the first time Saturday night with Smart back at their alma mater and Muschamp at South Carolina.

It's just business, not fun.

''It's never really been about that for me,'' Smart said. ''He and I are good friends. We talk time to time. It's never an extra motivation, because that's not really what it's about. It's about our players and their players. It's business-like for us, it's not really about (our relationship).''

Muschamp went from walk-on safety to captain at Georgia in 1994 when Smart redshirted as a freshman, with their fathers sitting together during games. Smart took over at safety when Muschamp graduated and went into coaching .

So the focus is on the game while friendship temporarily takes a back seat.

''At the end of the day, it's South Carolina and Georgia,'' Muschamp said.

Running one of the Southeastern Conference's 14 football programs is the dream job for many aspiring coaches. Each of the current 14 coaches got his start by playing a sport in college - even if it wasn't football.

Here are some lessons learned before they became SEC coaches:

NOT A STAR: Proving its not how you start but how you finish, four coaches are former walk-ons: Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, Muschamp, Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Auburn's Gus Malzahn.

QB NOT KEY SPOT: Five SEC coaches played defensive back, including Alabama's Nick Saban, Vanderbilt's Derek Mason and Kentucky's Mark Stoops along with Muschamp and Smart. LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron and Bielema played linebacker. Tennessee's Butch Jones and Malzahn were receivers, though Malzahn also punted. Florida's Jim McElwain is the lone quarterback among SEC coaches.

NO POWER LEAGUE, NO PROB: They may be trying to sign five-star recruits now, but not every coach played in a Power Five league. Some weren't even in Division I. Malzahn walked on at Arkansas and later transferred to Division II Henderson State. McElwain played at Eastern Washington when it was still a Division II program. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was a tight end at Division III Ursinus in Pennsylvania, while Jones played both running back and wide receiver at Division II Ferris State before a knee injury ended his career.

WORK, PATIENCE: No coach starts at the top, so that means patience and coaching no matter the sport. Freeze started coaching at a Tennessee high school, where he also coached girls basketball before heading to the college ranks. Stoops also coached in high school after a couple years as a graduate assistant at Iowa, while Jones was a student coach after his injury.

''You work your way up in this profession, the nights of sleeping in cars as a GA and having to be the first one in the office and the last one to leave and having to do all the other things, it makes you appreciate it that much more,'' Jones said.

ALMOST HOOPS: Basketball, not football is still McElwain's first love. He grew up playing basketball and had a key to a gym while growing up in Montana. McElwain, who started his coaching career at Eastern Washington, was offered a job at Gonzaga on the basketball coaching staff in the late 1980s. He stayed with football and now is in his second season with the Gators. ''You look back and you wonder sometimes, you know, where life will take you,'' McElwain said.

CANCELED VISIT: Stoops canceled a trip to Michigan State knowing he would play at Iowa, even though Saban was the position coach recruiting him. ''That phone call didn't go very well,'' Stoops said. ''I was really young and na�ve and had no clue because I knew I wasn't a great player or anything like that, but I couldn't believe it because he made it very difficult for me. He was very persuasive and very good.''

FOOTBALL WON: Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze played two years of baseball in community college, always knowing he wanted to coach football after watching his father in rural Mississippi.

''I'd go to Sunday film with him and they had the old 16 mm clicking and the cutting and splicing, and I just watched the influence and impact he had on kids,'' Freeze said. ''Really all I knew was farming or coaching, and I knew I didn't want to farm. I was always drawn to coaching and knew that was the route I was going to take.''

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AP Sports Writers Mark Long, Pete Iacobelli, Charles Odum, David Brandt, John Zenor, Steve Megargee, Brett Martel and Gary Graves contributed to this report.

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