ATHENS — Kirby Smart has answered the question countless times, about how his 11 years working with Alabama championship coach Nick Saban have influenced his program.
Smart patiently gives Saban credit each time, even as he recruits against him for top prospects.
“He’s a great leader of men, I think his strength is, number one, his ability to recruit, and number two, organize and demand excellence,” Smart said, asked about the Saban influence by a caller from Montgomery, Ala., on the SEC teleconference, “and I think that’s important.”
But there are many more differences between the 42-year-old Smart and the 66-year-old Saban than there are similarities.
Smart is the son of a high school football coach (Sonny), and he played his college ball for Georgia coaches Ray Goff and Jim Donnan.
Smart’s early coaching career included a stint as a graduate assistant under Florida State hall of famer Bobby Bowden (2002-03) and a year under former Bulldogs’ coach Mark Richt (2005).
Both Smart and Saban were defensive backs, but Smart was a two-time All-SEC performer for Georgia while Saban had a modest playing career at Kent State.
The Bulldogs’ players say they take note of Smart’s success as a player, and his age and energy enables him to relate well to them in every practice each week.
Some of Saban’s former assistant coaches have gone on to have success, Smart and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio having won their respective league titles.
But others have flamed out, evidence that there’s no foolproof coaching system, as Smart explained to the Alabama caller on the SEC teleconference.
“I don’t think (Saban’s system) comes with an easy copycat or footprint,” Smart said, “because it has worked sometimes, and it hasn’t worked sometimes with people that have left Nick’s (coaching) tree.”
Alabama is off to a roaring start this season, 8-0 and ranked No. 1 with Saban having finally loosened his grip on offensive football. The Tide beat Tennessee on Saturday, 58-21.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are 6-1 entering into Saturday’s showdown in Jacksonville against Florida.
Smart said at the end of the day, there are only subtle differences between most major programs that have more to do with coaches’ personalities.
“There’s a lot of similarities in regard to day to day operations, but I’ll be honest, that’s not that varied from program to program,” Smart said. “You have a certain amount of time in the day, 18 to 20 hours to get things done, and everyone has to work red zone, everybody has got to work on third downs, and get a lift in for players.
“You kind of have the same things in-season, from school to school. I think the message and mental conditioning may be the most different thing from school to school.”
Smart said what he does at Georgia is add a personal touch to how he’s building the Bulldogs’ program.
“I think the most important thing is you go do it your way, and you feel comfortable with it, and you’re confident with that,” Smart said.
“More important than any of that is, are you able to recruit good football players and get them to play well.”
Georgia football DawgNation stories