Georgia football coach Kirby Smart as player was ‘The ultimate competitor’
ATHENS — Kirby Smart ranks high among collegiate coaches by any measure, including how he stacked up as a player.
Smart, of course, was an All-SEC safety his senior year playing football at Georgia under former coach Jim Donnan and still ranks tied for sixth on the school’s all-time interceptions list.
College Football News recently ranked Smart 15th among active coaches, in terms of evaluating his playing career.
“That’s way too high, way too high,” Smart said on an ESPN podcast, asked about his ranking. “When you have guys like (Richard) Seymour and (Marcus) Stroud, it was easy playing safety back there because nobody ever got through the line of scrimmage.
“So I got to sit back and cherry pick things.”
Still, one wonders how Division lll quarterback Jimbo Fisher (No. 12) got ranked ahead of an All-SEC pick, or former Tulsa safety Lovie Smith (No. 9).
Former Georgia coach Ray Goff, who recruited Smart out of Bainbridge, Ga., said his former player is being modest.
“Kirby was a very good player,” Goff said. “Don’t let him tell you otherwise. He did a great job for us.”
Jim Donnan, who succeeded Goff as the Bulldogs’ head coach in 1996, watched Smart rise to team leader.
“He’s a coach’s son, he grew up around football, and he knew what it took to be a player,” Donnan said. “He had good quickness, good instincts and good ball skills.
“He had really good hands, and he was a good tackler. But his leadership was outstanding.”
Greg Adkins, a former Georgia assistant coach during Smart’s playing career, said the success went beyond football skills.
“Kirby was the ultimate competitor on defense,” said Adkins, a former Marshall all-conference player who’s back coaching at his alma mater.
“Kirby never backed down from anybody. He may have been a little undersized, and might not have run as well as some others, but he just made plays and you could count on him.
“In our business, you call guys like that football players.”
Smart played in 44 games of record — the NCAA didn’t start counting bowl statistics in official records until 2002.
In 1998, Smart’s senior season, he was credited with 98 tackles. For his career, he had 214 tackles.
The 13 career interceptions, as noted above, rank sixth all-time in Georgia football history.
Smart had six interceptions his junior year, and five picks as a senior. This, in addition to 5.5 sacks his first two seasons.
“Joe Kines was our defensive coordinator,” Donnan recalled, “and he ran things where Kirby could make checks back there.
“The players looked up to him, he was a team captain.”
Dominick Sanders 54
DeAndre Baker 51
Kirby Smart 44
J.R. Reed 42
Richard LeCounte 38
Kirby Smart 214
J.R. Reed 199
Dominick Sanders 156
Richard LeCounte 150
DeAndre Baker 116
Dominick Sanders 16
Kirby Smart 13
DeAndre Baker 7
Richard LeCounte 5
J.R. Reed 5
Jim Donnan discussion on UGA, Kirby
Ray Goff with Kirby Smart