Indianapolis—Kirby Smart’s six-year resume as the head football coach at Georgia is impressive:
**--An overall record of 65-15, for an average of 10.8 wins per season.
**--Four SEC East titles and trips to the conference championship game (winning one).
**--Five straight Top 10 finishes in the CFP rankings.
**--Five straight top three recruiting classes in ESPN’s annual rankings.
**--Two trips to the College Football Playoffs and in both years the Bulldogs have made it to the national championship game.
**--And should No. 3 Georgia (13-1) find a way to beat No. 1 Alabama (13-1) in Monday night’s CFP championship game at Lucas Ohio Stadium, Smart would present his alma matter with its first national championship since 1980. That’s 41 years if you’re counting at home. He would also have the first team in Georgia history to win 14 games in a season.
“When you look at the whole body of work that Kirby has put together in just six years it’s pretty incredible,” said former Georgia head coach Jim Donnan, Smart’s coach when he was an All-SEC defensive back for the Bulldogs (1996-98). “It pretty amazing the organization he has put together. It’s not just wins and losses. It’s everything.”
Kirby Smart, 46, is the definitive American success story. The son of a successful high school coach, Sonny Smart, Kirby spent a season with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent. He married his college sweetheart, Mary Beth Lycett, who was a player on the successful Georgia women’s basketball team.
He always knew he was going to follow his father into the family business—coaching.
And the way that you learn the business is to go work for the people who do it well. Smart learned the basics from watching his father, who was a high school head coach for 23 years. Smart’s first job was as an administrative assistant under Donnan in 1999. He spent a couple of seasons with Chris Hatcher at Valdosta State (at $10,000 per year), and then two seasons with Bobby Bowden at Florida State.
Then came the pivotal moment of his career in 2004 when he joined Nick Saban’s staff at LSU. They spent only one year together and then Saban went to the Miami Dolphins. Smart went back to Georgia under Mark Richt for a single season (2005) and then joined Saban with the Dolphins for the 2006 season. He went with Saban to Alabama in 2007 and the rest is history.
“I was fortunate to work under some really good head coaches in the likes of Coach Saban, Coach Bowden, Coach Richt, and my father,” said Smart.
All total, Smart stayed with Saban for 11 seasons before the opportunity came at this alma mater in 2016.
At this point Kirby Smart was as prepared as anyone could be to become a head coach. And, with the assurances from the Georgia administration that the school was ready to “go big”, Smart set about the task to building at Georgia what he saw Saban build at Alabama—a program that recruits at the highest level, with the best possible facilities, and will be in the national championship conversation on an annual basis.
“But as far as the way we organize and run the program, most of that came from my time with Coach Saban,” Smart said.
On Sunday the two coaches were together for a Zoom call with the media. It is is pretty obvious that Saban is proud of his most successful pupil.
“I think Kirby’s program is one of the elite programs in the country,” said Saban, who will be going for his eighth national championship as a head coach. “He’s done an outstand job of making the program what it is. And we certainly feel like this is the best team in the country that we have a chance to play.”
Smart is constantly remined that he is 0-4 against his mentor.
2017: Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (CFP national championship)
2018: Alabama 35, Georgia 27 (SEC Championship)
2020: Alabama 41, Georgia 24 (regular season, Tuscaloosa)
2021: Alabama 41, Georgia 24 (SEC championship)
I ain’t the only guy losing to Saban.
Until this season, when Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher beat Alabama in College Station, no former Saban assistant had ever beaten him. The record is now 25-1.
“They’ve (Alabama) been a thorn (in the side) of any team they’ve played besides ours,” Smart. “We have that in common with a lot of teams. They have a really good team, a really good coach, and a really good program.”
The WAY Georgia has lost those four games to Saban’s teams has also been a topic of discussion. In three of those games (2017 national championship, 2018 SEC championship, 2021 SEC championship),
And thus began the narrative, unfairly I might add, that Smart lacks the killer instinct of Saban when it comes to these kinds of high-pressure games.
“It’s been games of momentum,” Smart said. “They’ve done a good job of momentum in the second half. Each game has been different.
“But it will never be about he and I. I know he won’t make it that I won’t make it that because that’s for you guys (the media) to do that.”
So what will happen if Saban beats Smart again on the biggest of stages?
Will there be disappointment among the Bulldog faithful? Of course. Georgia hasn’t won a national championship in 41 years. The star on that team, Herschel Walker, is now 59 years old. And in those four decades Georgia fans have watched Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida, and Tennessee take home the hardware. Georgia is still waiting.
If Georgia loses will those fans vent on the Paul Finebaum Show that Kirby has mismanaged the quarterback position again?
You can count on it. It’s not true. But you can count on it being an issue.
But the fact is that if Alabama wins, then Georgia will be back next year to make another run at the national championship. And eventually Georgia will walk through that door. His legacy at Georgia will be secure.
“Kirby’s program is as solid as they come,” said Donnan. “It is built for the long haul. It’s just a matter of time.”