Georgia coach Kirby Smart was Alabama coach Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator for seven years, before becoming the Bulldogs’ head man.
The good news is that there’s no bad blood between these two. In fact, Saban offered praise earlier this season for the guy who was with him at Alabama, LSU, and the Miami Dolphins.
AL.com reports that this game isn’t personal in any way. “As the people who know them will tell you, in their 11 years together, nine of them at Alabama,” writes AL’s Kevin Scarbinsky, “their relationship was strictly business, and business was very good.”
Nevertheless, this is certainly a game that both coaches want to win badly. Saban has always been one of the most competitive coaches in college football history. Evidence of this can be seen in the fact that he’s won four national championships at Alabama in nine years. If he’s able to win on Monday, this would be his fifth.
Smith no doubt wants to get his first-ever title as a head coach. And perhaps it would be even sweeter for him to beat his mentor in the process.
Saban Never Envisioned the National Title would be this Way
Neither coach will admit that their competitive juices want them to beat the other side. But Saban did discuss how he couldn’t have envisioned this is how the College Football Championship would play out.
“I never imagined it, never thought of it that way,” Saban told the media. “I’m proud of the fact that Kirby has done a great job. He’s a done a fantastic job to get them to this level.
“He did a fabulous job for us for the years that he was with us. It’s certainly a challenge to play against someone who does such a good job.”
Of course, nobody has done as good as Saban in the modern college football game. But he’ll have the task of trying to win his first national title without Smart on his staff.
Saban’s assistants haven’t had much luck against him. They’re currently 0-11 against their old boss. If Smart can win, he’ll be the first former assistant to accomplish this feat in 12 tries.
“I’m close to a lot of those guys, but the game is not between Coach Saban and I,” Smart explained. “I know who he is, I know what he does. He knows everything that I do and that we do. There’s a lot of similarities between the two programs.
“We’re trying to be Georgia, and they’re trying to be Alabama. That’s the bottom line. It’s not really about he and I. I have tremendous respect for him and everything he stands for, and he’s been a great asset to my career.”
Smart added that he’s still close with some of the former Tide players from when he was on the staff.
“I watch those guys when I’m not playing them, from afar, watching a game. I’m cheering and rooting for every kid I signed.
“There’s a lot of guys that are seniors and juniors on that defense, that team, that I know their families and they’ve sent me congratulatory texts, but I know where my focus and concentration is. It’s on giving our team the best chance they’ve got. I can’t be thinking about personal relationships to do that.”
Alabama is Facing a Familiar Foe
Much how Smart is familiar with his former Tide players, Alabama also knows Georgia well. In fact, Smart’s defensive coordinator spot was filled by Jeremy Pruitt, who served as the Bulldogs’ DC from 2014-15. The two even game-planned on how to shut down Clemson’s Deshaun Watson last year.
“There’s probably some advantages both ways, but at the same time you can possibly have too much information. It’s definitely interesting.”
The Alabama players even think that Smart and Saban are very much alike.
“They’re very similar,” said Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. “They’re both very passionate, both very thorough in what they do in their gameplans. They challenge their players to do what they’re supposed to do.”
Running back Damien Harris also chimed in.
“[Smart] knows what we do, but I think Coach Saban knows a little bit better what he’s going to do,” said Harris, “considering he learned it all from Coach Saban.”
Game time is set for tomorrow night at 8:10pm EST. And our GTBets line has Alabama as a -3.5 favorite. That said, you still have time to place a bet if you like the Tide or Bulldogs in this one.