ATHENS — Georgia and South Carolina meet on Oct. 16 of next season. Will Muschamp says he isn’t that excited about what will likely be the main storyline.
Muschamp will be in his first year as South Carolina’s head coach, and will be facing off against his longtime friend Kirby Smart, who will be in his first season as coach at Georgia, where they both played. Muschamp, who spent four seasons as Florida’s head coach, is used to coaching against friends, but hasn’t grown to like those games.
“Honestly, I don’t really like it,” Muschamp said. “At the end of the day it’s part of our profession, it’s what we chose to do. But it is what it is. Whether it’s Nick (Saban) or Kirby, or Mike Bobo, who I have a great relationship with, for me personally I don’t look forward to it. But in the end I’ll do my best for South Carolina and he’ll do the same for Georgia.”
Muschamp and Smart’s playing careers did not overlap at Georgia, but they became very close when both joined the staff at Valdosta State in 2000. Muschamp gave Smart his big break by recommending him to Saban a few years later; Muschamp recalled telling Saban that “this guy’s really sharp.”
Now Muschamp and Smart going to be SEC East rivals and competing for many of the same recruits. That doesn’t stop Muschamp from heaping praise on his friend.
“Kirby’s got a great work ethic,” Muschamp said in an interview last Friday. “You saw that as a player coming in to Georgia. Had a great feel for the game. Natural leadership ability. Positively effects everyone around him. He’s just a guy who’s got it. Whatever it is, he’s got it.
“He does a fantastic job relating to the players. He does a great job on the recruiting trail in relating to people. All of those things and then on top of it he’s really intelligent. His experience as a defensive coordinator has been really good at what he’s done. He’s been very productive. So all those things.”
Smart enters the Georgia job with no head coaching experience. That was Muschamp at Florida in 2011, but he thinks the adjustment won’t be much of an issue for Smart.
“Kirby will be fine,” he said. “He’s been on the big stage. I always look at it from a gameday standpoint as a defensive coordinator or offensive coordinator you’re making nowadays somewhere from 75 to 85 to 90 decisions that’ll have a huge impact on the team, more than anyone else. So he’s had to make those decisions over an 8-to-10 year period at Alabama. And he’s done a fantastic job. So there’s no more pressure that’ll be involved than the decisions he’s made in every game for 75 to 80 plays in a game.
“So that’s the way I look at it. His experience as an assistant working for Nick is certainly gonna benefit.”
But the coach who actually may have given both guys their start was Chris Hatcher, who in 2000 hired Muschamp and Smart to his defensive staff at Valdosta State. Hatcher, now the head coach at Samford (which plays Georgia in 2017), also knows Bobo, and said all three former Georgia players “had the ‘it factor.’ “They’re just real smart guys that have a lot of passion for the game.”
Hatcher, when asked what stood out about Smart, answered by lumping him together with Muschamp.
“In my mind him and Will are very similar,” Hatcher said. “They both are great competitors, number one. They’re extremely smart. And their players play hard for them. And those are three qualities that to be successful at any level, but especially the SEC you better have.”