ATHENS — There are already reports that Dan Mullen, newly hired as head coach at Florida, is trying to flip 5-star quarterback recruit Justin Fields. Alas, that’s not a subject Kirby Smart can comment on, per NCAA rules.
Smart can comment on Mullen, his friend and longtime coaching foe, becoming the head man at Georgia’s biggest rival. But with the SEC Championship Game on tap Saturday, Smart didn’t have much to say about it.
“I know Dan well. I’ve got a lot of respect for him, I think he’s a good football coach,” Smart said. “But I’m not concerned with what they’re doing right now.”
Smart and Mullen are close off the field; both having houses in the Lake Oconee community. (Read this story from September for more background.)
On the field, Smart’s defenses have done a good job of holding Mississippi State’s offense in check: There was this year’s 31-3 Georgia win, and as the defensive coordinator at Alabama, Smart was unbeaten against Mississippi State (7-0), holding Mullen’s offense to an average of 8.6 points and 273.9 yards per game.
But Mullen will have a bigger talent base at Florida than he had at Mississippi State, which is hoping that Mullen can solve its longtime offensive woes, and its inability to develop quarterbacks. Florida has started four different quarterbacks against Georgia over the past five years.
It was only two years ago this week that Smart was on the verge of being announced as the next head coach at Georgia. And in the short time since then he already has vaulted to among the top half of SEC coaches in at least one category: seniority.
After six coaching changes this year alone in the SEC, Smart is now tied for fifth in coaching longevity.
The coaches who have been at their programs longer: Alabama’s Nick Saban (11 years), Auburn’s Gus Malzahn (five years), Kentucky’s Mark Stoops (five years) and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason (three years). Missouri’s Barry Odom and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp were hired within days of Smart in early Dec. 2015.