ATHENS — The story has been told a few times this week, most recently in this well-reported story by ESPN’s Chris Low, describing how Kirby Smart came close to becoming the coach at Auburn instead of Georgia.
It’s not that revelatory, but for those unaware: After Auburn fired Gene Chizik in 2012, the school interviewed Smart, then Alabama’s defensive coordinator, before ultimately settling on Gus Malzahn. There were concerns at Auburn about Smart’s insistence that he stay at Alabama through the national title game before taking over at Auburn full-time.
And as Al.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky reported earlier this week, Smart told Auburn he would try to bring his college teammate Mike Bobo, then Georgia’s offensive coordinator, with him to Auburn. Those who were covering Georgia at the time, including this reporter, can verify there was a lot of buzz about the possibility of it happening, although it was not a certainty. (If Smart had gotten the job, would Bobo ultimately have pulled the trigger and left his alma mater for Auburn? We’ll never know.)
Anyway, perhaps the most interesting part of the ESPN story, published Friday, wasn’t the Auburn stuff, but what else Smart had to say ― particularly about where Georgia compares to Alabama in talent, Georgia’s talent level when he arrived and his relationship with Mark Richt.
It’s not new information or a surprise that Smart and Richt stay in touch. Smart was on Richt’s staff in 2005 and, perhaps unlike other new head coaches, has never sought to diminish his predecessor. In fact, Smart praised Richt and the talent he left him two years ago:
“They don’t come any finer than coach Richt,” Smart said. “I still talk to him some, and it says so much about him the way he’s continued to support the kids on this team and support Georgia. The cupboard wasn’t bare when we got here. Now, we had to go sign a quarterback, but we had players. I know a lot of new coaches talk all the time about how they don’t have enough good players when they get there, but I can tell you this place was in better shape than Alabama was when we got there in 2007.”
Indeed, most of the players starting for Georgia were already on the roster when Smart arrived. The starting quarterback, Jake Fromm, is a freshman recruited by Smart and Jim Chaney.
That said, Smart indicated there’s still a difference between what Alabama has in 2017 and what Georgia has now. Again from the ESPN story:
“I tell our kids all the time that humility is just a week away, and that goes for our entire program,” Smart said. “We’re not there yet, not even close. We’ve made progress and are continuing to make progress in a lot of areas. We’ve got good players, and I love the way our kids are working and have bought in. But we don’t have the kind of players Alabama has. They’re the standard, and we’ve got to keep recruiting better players, developing those players and coaching them.”
But Smart also emphasized that his full focus isn’t on the SEC Championship Game yet, but the showdown Saturday at No. 10 Auburn.
“They’ve got the best defense we’ve faced and a quarterback [Jarrett Stidham] who throws it as well as anybody we’ve faced,” Smart said. “That’s my focus ― not what might have been or what might not have been five years ago when I interviewed for the job.”
You can read the entire story, with other interesting nuggets, here.