ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart couldn’t wait to surprise his former head coach on Monday night.
Smart, appearing on DawgNation, was grinning from ear to ear as he made a virtual appearance on the Ingles On The Beat show featuring Ray Goff.
“When you said Coach Goff’s name, I wasn’t going to miss this for the world,” Smart said. “He has meant a lot to me and my family, and he’s special to me.”
Goff, who played at Georgia and served the Bulldogs for 15 years as an assistant to Vince Dooley and head coach (1989-1995), was moved by his former player’s gesture.
“You’re making me tear up,” Goff said. “I appreciate it Kirby, thank you very much.”
Smart talks often about his close relationship with his players. Seeing and hearing the respect Smart holds for Goff made the Georgia football family come full circle for all of DawgNation to see.
The 65-year-old Goff opened the show providing his assessment of the Bulldogs’ current program, unaware Smart was waiting to pop up in the Zoom room chat.
“I think Kirby has done a great job,” Goff said. “And Kirby played for me and he was a great, really a good player for us.”
Smart made his entrance on cue, chuckling as he pointed out how Goff started to say he was a “great player and then he went back to good,” when describing his playing career from 1995-1998.
Smart quickly shared his admiration for the man who recruited him out of Bainbridge, Ga.
“He’s affected the coaching profession, and he’s had a huge impact when you think about Will Muschamp, and then Robert Edwards is into coaching, Hines Ward is in coaching, and Mike Bobo,” Smart said, ticking off names of some of the great players Goff brought to Georgia. “All these guys he signed are in coaching.”
Goff remembered Kirby had been on his recruiting radar for quite some time back in the 1990s because of the relationship he had with Kirby’s father, Sonny.
One of Kirby Smart’s earliest football memories involved Goff when he was a ball boy, no older than 5 or 6 by his recollection, attending a high school game between Thomasville and Thomasville Central in the 1980s.
“(Goff) was on the sideline that day, and I thought that Coach Goff was Bear Bryant, he was tall standing over me,” Smart said.
“There was about five of the greatest players on the field that night. Shawn Jones, Micah Jones, Eric Curry and Charlie Ward. It was an unbelievable group, and I was sitting on the sideline watching those guys play beside Coach Goff.”
Some 11 or 12 years later, Goff and his Georgia football staff were nurturing a recruiting relationship with Kirby.
“Florida recruited me, but they didn’t have the same relationship,” Smart said, opening up on the background of his recruiting process.
“Coach (Richard) Bell formed a relationship with me and communicated with me, and each week he would call, check in, ask about the family, no other schools really recruited me that hard,” Smart said. “Georgia Southern did, Furman did, Southern Miss did, and Duke, and a couple others.
“But Georgia did the best job of recruiting me.”
Goff remembers Smart’s talents, but also, the relationship with Sonny Smart that played a role.
“Kirby was a good player for us, but his father was a coach, and that really was big for us because we wanted to recruit coaches’ sons if we could, because one day they might have a player that could make a big impact for us,” Goff said. “Kirby’s dad is one of the finest men I’ve been around.
“We were going to sign Kirby whether we had room or not.”
Smart was unaware of that contingency plan at the time. Smart recalled it took a late flip from a former McEachern High School football star for a UGA scholarship to come available for him before signing day.
“I didn’t get an offer until the night before signing day,” Smart said. “Great story, because Steve Johnson, a DB from McEachern, flipped to Tennessee.
“Coach Goff and them called and said, ‘It looks like we’re going to have a spot for you,’ and of course I jumped all over that.”
A little more than 20 years later, Georgia came calling for Kirby Smart again, this time as the head coach.
“He’s a very highly motivated young man,” Goff said. “His father and the people he played with in high school did a great job with him.
“If I had a son, I would take my son and tell him you’re going to play for Kirby Smart at the University of Georgia.”
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