Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Georgia's hiring of Smart looks good by comparison

Greg McGarity did not have to go to his Plan B, which is good because I'm not sure if there was a Plan B.

With minor angst swirling over Georgia's delayed official hiring of Kirby Smart, the Bulldogs have finalized a deal Sunday with their former safety and Alabama's defensive coordinator as their next head coach. The contract was expected to be rubber-stamped by the UGA Athletic Association during 12:30 p.m. conference call today, and Smart likely will be introduced at a news conference Monday in Athens.

UPDATE: The hiring is official. I've attached Georgia's news release at the bottom.

Had negotiations between McGarity and Smart's agent, Jimmy Sexton unraveled, whether because of Smart's contract demands or other financial considerations like assistants' salaries and overall budget, McGarity would have been in a bad spot, given the lack of options (see below). Smart's hiring seemed imminent from the moment coach Mark Richt was fired last Sunday, the day after the regular season. But Georgia gets a little emotional nice boost from the timing of this as Smart's Alabama defensive is coming off a dominating performance over Florida in the SEC championship game. The Gators were held to one scoring possessions, seven first downs, 180 yards and went 0-for-11 on third down in the Crimson Tide's 29-15 win.

The fan base appears divided on Smart. In short: The good is that he knows the landscape at Georgia and the SEC, is a strong recruiter and potentially brings with him some of the secrets of Alabama's success -- at least the secret not named Nick Saban. The doubts revolve around the fact he never has been a head coach before.

But I like the hiring. First-time head coaches never come with guarantees but there is nothing to suggest Smart will not succeed or will not be able to hire a strong staff.

I wrote previously that it would have been nice if McGarity aimed high in his pursuit of a new head coach. Georgia is one of the nation's top 10 coach jobs, potentially even one of the top five. But consider what has happened in the past couple of weeks:

• LSU pondered firing Les Miles but backed off.

• Jimbo Fisher opted not to leave Florida State, even with potential other jobs (like LSU) available.

• Chip Kelly said he will not resign from the Philadelphia Eagles to return to college after this season. Even if the Eagles fire him, a college team with an opening would have to wait another five weeks before trying to sign Kelly. There's no guarantee of that happening, to say nothing of likely losing recruits during the process.

• South Carolina (SEC) pursued Houston coach Tom Herman, who suddenly became the college football's flavor of the month, but was rejected. So the Gamecocks settled on an unlikely candidate: Will Muschamp, who's only one year removed from a miserable run as head coach at Florida and spent this season as Auburn's defensive coordinator.

• Southern Cal (Pac-12), the only open job that potentially could be considered better than Georgia's, didn't hire a big name. The Trojans promoted offensive coordinator Clay Helton, who had been serving as interim head coach since the firing of Steve Sarkisian.

• Miami (ACC), as you might've heard, hired Mark Richt.

• Virginia Tech (ACC) hired Justin Fuente, who has been winning the last two years at Memphis, a former Conference USA school that now plays in the American Athletic Conference (AAC). So this is kind of a step up.

• Maryland (Big Ten) hired Michigan's defensive coordinator, D.J. Durkin.

• Missouri (SEC) promoted defensive coordinator Barry Odom.

Which, if any of those, wow you? Richt, maybe?

I'll be interested to see who Smart brings in as his coordinators. But this hires looks pretty good today.


University of Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, a former player and coach at the University of Georgia, will be the new head coach of the Bulldogs according to an announcement Sunday by UGA J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Greg McGarity.

The decision was approved Sunday by the Executive Committee of the UGA Athletic Association Board of Directors.  Smart will be introduced at a press conference in Athens on Monday.

“It was critical to identify a person who would focus on a specific, defined process of developing championship football teams on and off the playing field,” said McGarity.  “Someone who understands the true meaning of a student-athlete by actually experiencing it himself, someone who competed at the highest levels on the playing field, was mentored by some of the very best in the game, and understood the specific ingredients necessary to excel at the highest levels of college athletics. Kirby Smart fits that profile.  I believe Kirby Smart is the perfect fit for the University of Georgia.”

“I interviewed Coach Smart on Sunday morning, and, following that interview, I accepted the athletic director’s recommendation to hire Kirby,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead.  “I am pleased to welcome Kirby, his wife, Mary Beth, and their three children back home to the University of Georgia, and I look forward to supporting him in his new role as our head football coach.”

"It's an honor and privilege to return home to the University of Georgia and my home state,” said Smart.  “I'm deeply appreciative of the faith President Morehead, Greg McGarity, and the Athletic Board Executive Committee have demonstrated in asking me to lead one of the truly great college football programs in the country.   I also want to thank Coach Saban. I have been fortunate to spend 11 seasons with him as my mentor and have learned a tremendous amount from him as a coach and teacher. I'm honored and excited for the opportunity at Georgia and promise high energy, effort every day, and hard work every minute on the part of all our coaches, staff and student-athletes."

Smart, who got his start in coaching as a Georgia administrative assistant in 1999, has served on the Alabama staff the past nine years, the past seven as defensive coordinator. During his tenure at Alabama, the Crimson Tide has won three BCS National Championships, three Southeastern Conference crowns, six SEC western division titles, and been ranked in the nation’s final top ten rankings the last eight years in a row.  The current Crimson Tide team is expected to be included in the upcoming College Football Playoff.

Smart was recognized as the 2012 AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year and the 2009 Broyles Award winner as college football’s top assistant coach.  He is currently a finalist for the 2015 Broyles Award.  A former standout defensive back and scholar-athlete at Georgia, Smart is one of the nation’s most respected defensive coordinators. Smart coached Alabama’s inside linebackers in 2015 after tutoring the safeties in 2014.  He  also coached the inside linebackers from 2009-12.

Prior to joining the Alabama staff in 2007, Smart spent the 2006 season as safeties coach with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. He served six years on the collegiate level as the running backs coach at Georgia (2005), defensive backs coach at LSU (2004), graduate assistant coach at Florida State (2002-03), defensive coordinator/linebackers coach (2001) and defensive backs coach (2000) at Valdosta State.

As the running backs coach on Georgia’s 2005 SEC Championship team, Smart’s Bulldogs unit averaged 162.2 yards per game, third in the SEC.  He coached current Bulldog running backs coach Thomas Brown along with Danny Ware, and Kregg Lumpkin—all of whom had NFL careers.  In 2004 at LSU, he tutored two NFL draft picks: Corey Webster (2nd round, New York Giants) and Travis Daniels (4th round, Miami Dolphins).

As a player, Smart was a four-year letterman at defensive back for Georgia, where he was a first team all-SEC pick as a senior. He finished his career with 13 interceptions, which was fourth in Georgia annals, and led the Bulldogs with six interceptions in 1997 and five in 1998. A four-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll, Smart earned his undergraduate degree in finance from Georgia and his master’s degree from Florida State in 2003.

The 2015 Alabama defense currently ranks first in rushing defense (74.0 ypg), second in total defense (258.2 ypg), and third in scoring defense (14.4).

His 2014 Alabama defense ranked fourth nationally against the run (102.4 ypg). The Crimson Tide ranked sixth nationally in scoring defense (18.4 ppg), while ranking 12th nationally in total defense (328.4 ypg). He helped junior safety Landon Collins earn unanimous first-team All-America honors while being selected as a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy, Thorpe Award and Lott Trophy.

Smart crafted another elite Alabama defense in 2013 after losing six more players to the NFL. The Crimson Tide ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense (13.9 ppg) while ranking fifth in total defense (286.5 ypg), seventh in rushing defense (106.2 ypg) and 11th in pass defense (180.3 ypg). Alabama was fourth nationally in red zone defense and fourth in fewest first downs allowed. He helped mold defensive leader C.J. Mosley into the nation’s best linebacker and winner of the Butkus Award.

Smart retooled the Alabama defense in 2012, molding a unit that lost six starters to the NFL after the 2011 season. The Tide led the nation in total defense (250.0 ypg), scoring defense (10.9 ppg) and rush defense (76.4 ypg) while ranking seventh in pass defense (174.3 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (103.72). The Tide defense featured two first team All-Americans in cornerback Dee Milliner and linebacker Mosley. Milliner was a finalist for the Thorpe Award, presented to the nation’s top defensive back. Mosley was a finalist for the Butkus Award.

The 2011 defense led the nation in all five major categories including total defense (183.6 ypg), scoring defense (8.2 ppg), rushing defense (72.2 ypg), passing defense (111.5 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (83.69 rating). Dont’a Hightower (a finalist for the Lombardi Award, Lott Trophy, Butkus Award and Bednarik Award) led the team in total tackles with 85 and was selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots.

Smart’s rebuilding job in 2010 was impressive, as the Tide remained one of the nation’s elite defensive units while replacing nearly the entire defense (nine starters). Alabama led the SEC and ranked third nationally in scoring defense (13.5 ppg) and fifth nationally in total defense (286.4 ypg).

The 2009 season was a special one for Smart, as he not only helped lead Alabama to the national championship but also took home the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the country. The UA defense again was regarded as one of the nation’s top units, leading the SEC and ranking second nationally in scoring defense (11.7 ppg), pass efficiency defense (87.7), rush defense (78.1 ypg) and total defense (244.1 ypg).

In the 2010 BCS National Championship game against Texas, the Tide recorded four interceptions and scored a defensive touchdown. Three players on Smart’s defense earned first-team All-America honors – linebacker Rolando McClain, cornerback Javier Arenas and nose guard Terrence Cody.  McClain captured the Butkus Award and Cody was a finalist for several national awards.

The 2008 Alabama defense was rated among the nation’s best. The Tide finished third in total defense (263.5 ypg) and seventh in scoring defense (14.3 ppg). Senior captain Rashad Johnson earned first team All-America honors at safety as well as first team All-SEC recognition after intercepting five passes, including two that were returned for touchdowns. Alabama snagged 15 interceptions in 2008 and brought back four of those for scores.

Under Smart’s guidance in 2007, Johnson led the SEC with six interceptions and earned first team All-SEC honors along with cornerback Simeon Castille. A third member of the Alabama secondary, cornerback Kareem Jackson, was honored at the end of the season as a second team Sporting News Freshman All-American.

A native of Bainbridge, Ga., Smart received his BBA degree in Finance from the University of Georgia in 1998 and his M.S. in Physical Education from Florida State in 2003.  He is married to the former Mary Beth Lycett of McDonough, Ga., a four-year letterwinner on the  Georgia women’s basketball team from 2000-2003.  The couple are the proud parents of twins Weston and Julia (Feb. 8, 2008) and son Andrew (May 25, 2012).

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.