ATHENS — Bob Stoops, who should serve as something of an inspiration for Kirby Smart, has gotten to know Georgia’s new head coach a bit over the years.
The Oklahoma and Alabama coaching staffs have visited each other a couple times, sharing ideas. Stoops also went to Tuscaloosa to observe an Alabama practice as it was preparing for one of its championship games.
Through all that, Stoops came away impressed with the young Alabama defensive coordinator.
“Oh sure, I’ve got great respect for Kirby, and obviously what he was able to do at Alabama and everywhere he’s been,” Stoops said. “He’s been at great programs, been around other great people. What I can see is a great leader and a bright guy. So I think he’s going to do an excellent job.”
Smart is following the same path as Stoops, who went from defensive coordinator for a national championship team (Florida in 1996) to head coach of a major program (Oklahoma in 1998). Stoops then won his own national title a couple years later, and has won a total of nine Big 12 championships.
There’s one big difference: Stoops was defensive coordinator for an offensive-minded head coach, Steve Spurrier, while Smart worked for the defensive-minded Nick Saban.
For what it’s worth, Stoops discounts that.
“I don’t feel that’s much of a difference at all, in that he still was a coordinating the defense, and let’s face it, (there’s) the fact is he’s been around a great coach for a long time,” Stoops said. “That can only be helpful to him.”
During an interview this week about Smart’s new job, Stoops also shared what he learned as an assistant to Spurrier, the key advice that Lou Holtz gave him.
Prior to becoming a head coach, Stoops had a strong pedigree through his playing and coaching career, playing under Hayden Fry at Iowa, and learning under Barry Alvarez, Kirk Farentz and Bill Snyder, who were assistants at Iowa. Then working with Snyder at Kansas State, being on the “ground floor at maybe as tough a place as you could be at.”
Then Stoops went to spend three years with Spurrier, which Stoops called “an incredible experience that really gave me the finishing pieces to really be prepared for this job.”
Since Spurrier concentrated on the offense, that gave Stoops a lot of autonomy for his side of the ball, helping get him ready to be a head coach.
“He trusted me, wanted me to be the leader on that side of the ball,” Stoops said. “And also even put me in front of the media constantly. That helped me grow in the position as well.”
That’s something Smart hasn’t had to do at Alabama, except for once a year or so at bowl or playoff sites, where it’s required.
Stoops leaned “primarily” on Spurrier for advice, but also on Alvarez, who has been a longtime confidant. There was also one memorable conversation with Lou Holtz during his first week at Oklahoma.
“He said something that I tell my players every year: As coach Holtz said, there’s three ways to make your team better. One is develop what’s there. Two is to recruit. And three is to eliminate,” Stoops said, then chuckled. “And that third one struck me, because there’s people that bring you down, or there can be, especially when programs aren’t doing so well. I’ve always remembered that.”