Colorado coach Mel Tucker on Kirby Smart and Nick Saban differences, similarities
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The biggest difference between Nick Saban and Kirby Smart?
There’s no one better to ask than a coach who worked for both men, and new Colorado head coach Mel Tucker was glad to oblige at the annual FWAA Awards Breakfast at the Marriott Convention Center.
Tucker, who won the 2015 CFP Championship on Saban’s staff before helping Smart build the Bulldogs into an SEC powerhouse the past three seasons, contrasted the two coaches last Monday.
“Kirby was different from Nick in that you could feel the fact he was a Georgia guy, played at Georgia, his wife played basketball at Georgia, and it was different for him,” Tucker said. “(Georgia) is his dream job — you’d have to ask him if he was waiting for it — but that’s a place that means so much to him personally to bring it over the hump.”
The 43-year-old Smart worked under Saban (67) for 11 years before being hired by Georgia following the 2015 season, bringing Tucker with him as his defensive coordinator.
“You don’t get a chance to see that often at a school of that magnitude with a guy that played there, who was a captain there, whose wife went to school there and now he’s going back there and recreating what he did at Bama,” Tucker said. “You know the formula, now you’re going to bring it to Georgia, that’s a lot of pressure, but he’s handled it well.”
Tucker has had a lot to do with the Bulldogs back-to-back SEC East Division titles, serving as Smart’s defensive coordinator.
Georgia is only the latest successful stop in Tucker’s career as a collegiate defensive assistant.
Tucker won a national championship at Ohio State in 2003, working on a Jim Tressel staff that also included Big Ten championship coach Mark Dantonio as defensive coordinator.
“Coach Tressel is so much different then Coach Saban, who is so different from Kirby, but all of those guys create a sense of urgency on a daily basis about everything,” Tucker said. “They really embrace the challenges, every meeting.”
Tucker also answered the age-old question of how hard it is to work for Saban, an assumption many make because of the turnover on the Alabama staff.
“Actually for me, he was very easy to work for, because you know exactly what was expected of you every day,” Tucker said, “and I tell people that’s what we all want from our bosses and superiors, tell me what you want, tell me how you want me to do it and I’ll get it done.
“It becomes difficult if you’re not doing it, that’s what made it difficult for some, but I never had an issue with Coach Saban.”
Likewise, Tucker said he didn’t have a problem sharing secondary coaching duties with Smart at Georgia, as the Bulldogs head man is very hands on.
“You think about it, in the NFL you have an O-Line coach and assistant O-Line coach — you’ve got two coaches for every position,” Tucker said, pointing out NFL rosters have only 50 players while college teams have 85 scholarship players in addition to walk-ons.
“In college football, you don’t have that (many coaches), the quality control guys can’t coach the guys, only the graduate assistants, so you need all hands on deck. So anyone who has any expertise and can help teach, motivate and develop a kid, they’ve got to be out there coaching.”
And make no mistake about it, Tucker said, Smart brings the energy in practice like few others.
“I think Kirby, with his passion for the University of Georgia, for the game of football, and just his energy is apparent each and every day in our staff meetings, in the meetings with the players, in practice and on game days and that’s key.
“His energy is off the charts, his passion is off the charts.”