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Steffenie Burns / UGA Sports
ESPN analyst and SEC Network host Paul Finebaum says Georgia fans are lucky to have Kirby Smart.

WATCH: Paul Finebaum ‘one of the biggest Kirby Smart fans in the world’

ATHENS — Paul Finebaum’s knowledge and perspective on SEC football runs deep, so his thoughts on Georgia football and Kirby Smart should not be taken lightly.

Indeed, the ESPN analyst and first man hired by the SEC Network has been covering the league since his days as a Tennessee student working at the Daily Beacon student paper in Knoxville.

By 1980, Finebaum was in the heart of SEC country, working as a columnist and reporter at the Birmingham Post-Herald newspaper.

“I am one of the biggest Kirby Smart fans in the world,” Finebaum proclaimed during our recent ‘Ingles On the Beat’ interview with him.

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“I spent a lot of time watching him at Alabama and seeing him up close. I know what the rap on him is, you guys talk about him every day on shows like this, but I think it’s somewhat undeserved, he’s come very close.

“He reminds me a little bit of a great golfer who just misses The Masters or the US Open by  a putt, and finally, he just knocks that door down.”

Finebaum, asked to predict where Smart will be in six years when he is 50 years old, sees the former Bulldogs’ player still coaching UGA and with a new national championship trophy in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.

Smart’s fire is what impresses Finebaum most, as he recounted a story from an Alabama spring game following the 2009 season where he was serving as a celebrity coach.

“The team was playing terribly, and he is cursing and swearing — I never heard more curse words in my entire life,” Finebaum said. “If he could get that animated about a spring football game coming off a national championship (season), he’s the kind of coach I want running my program.”

Further, Finebaum added, Smart gets the types of players he’d want in his program, too.

“I think he is arguably the best recruiter in the country, and I know there are some other people out there, but I would take him in a living room over anyone else in America,” Finebaum said. “I think that can be backed up by what Georgia has done over the last few years.”

No doubt, the Bulldogs recruiting classes have ranked No. 1 (2020), No. 2 (2019) and No. 1(2018) per the 247Sports composite rankings.

“There’s just been a little missing piece or two that has bedeviled him,” Finebaum said. “I spent a lot of time watching the Georgia program over the last 25 or 30 years ….  don’t be overly critical of the guy who just barely misses making the playoffs, or does make the playoffs and loses the national championship.

“This guy is the real deal, and Georgia fans ought to feel incredibly lucky they have him.”

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