ATHENS — Not that there should be any question about it really, but Kirby Smart and Mark Richt are genuinely happy for each other’s current success.
Former Georgia and current Miami coach Richt acknowledged as much when asked about Georgia last week, and Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart sent his best wishes Miami’s way on Tuesday.
“I think Mark’s done a tremendous job,” Smart said following the Bulldogs’ practice on Tuesday. “I actually got to see some of the Miami game because we watched [Georgia] Tech some this week, so I saw some of that game. Their defensive coordinator Manny Diaz does a tremendous job, and they’ve beaten Tech two years in a row now. I think Coach Richt has a rejuvenated energy and he’s done a good job. They’re playing really hard and they’re recruiting well. He’s always done a tremendous job.”
Both coaches are undefeated in the second year at their respective programs. The Hurricanes improved to 6-0 with a 25-24 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday in Miami Gardens, Fla., and Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs improved to 7-0 (4-0 SEC) with a 53-28 win over Missouri this past Saturday in Athens.
Miami moved up to No. 8 from No. 11 in the Associated Press poll while UGA went from No. 4 to No. 3. They are seventh and third, respectively, in the Amway Coaches poll.
Last week, Richt was asked on the weekly ACC coaches’ conference call what he thought about the success of his former team.
“I’m happy for Georgia,” he said. “I’m happy for all the kids I recruited and I’m happy for all the guys I didn’t recruit. Georgia is a great place. It has a special place in the hearts of myself and my wife, and I’m all for them having a lot of success.”
Smart and Richt go back a long way. Richt hired him away from LSU to coach Georgia’s running backs in 2005, a year they celebrated an SEC championship together. Then Smart left to join Nick Saban with the Miami Dolphins before following Saban to Alabama. There, the two coaches often met on the recruiting trail.
When the coaching change happened at Georgia in 2015, several of the Bulldogs’ recruits found themselves split on their decisions. Javon Wims, for one, is originally from Miami but was committed to UGA and found himself being pursued by both coaches.
“But I had seen the vision that Coach Smart had seen,” Wims, Georgia’s leading receiver, said of sticking with the Bulldogs. “He said it was going to take some time but there was a plan for team success and a plan for my individual success. We’re still trying to execute the plan.”
Interviewed after practice Tuesday, Wims said he doesn’t look at the rankings and wasn’t aware that Miami is undefeated.
However, fifth-year senior Davin Bellamy was.
“Coach Richt, he’s a great [coach] and I respect what he’s done for me,” Bellamy said. “He just knows how to get guys going. He teaches discipline and technique. The same thing that he’s been teaching over here he’s brought to Miami, and he’s got those guys playing great football. I can’t say anything bad about him. He’s doing really good over there at Miami.”
The official College Football Playoff rankings don’t start until Oct. 31. But many fans of both programs are eyeing the possibility of the two coaches and their respective programs meeting on college football’s biggest stage.
Nobody’s bothering to bring that up with coaches this fall. But Richt talked about that when he spoke at UGA’s Senior Gala in December 2015. At that point he’d already left the Bulldogs and accepted the Miami job.
“I’m 100 percent convinced that the University of Georgia and the University of Miami are on a collision course for a national championship,” Richt said.
Richt was fired at the end of the Georgia’s 9-3 regular season in 2015. He left as the winningest coach in the modern era of UGA football. He amassed a 145-51 record for a winning percentage of .740. Only Vince Dooley (201-77-10, .698) won more games at Georgia.
Smart went 8-5 in his first season with the Bulldogs, his first as a head coach. The Bulldogs are off to their first 7-0 start since 2005, when Smart was working for Richt, then in his fifth season.
Smart said Tuesday he still believes he has much to learn.
“I think I’m still developing a lot,” he said. “I learn a lot every game. You learn a lot every game you watch on TV, you try to learn from other’s mistakes, and continue to grow. I think that’s the only way you get better as a coach.”
Both Georgia and Miami appear to have good ones.