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Kirby Smart shares what keeps him going in taxing world of college coaching

Palmber-Thombsby:Palmer Thombs05/22/24


Kirby Smart is entering his ninth season as Georgia’s head coach, and College Football has changed quite a bit – not only from when he started at UGA in 2016 but also when he was a player in Athens in the 1990s or an assistant at several stops throughout the 2000s. For him though, one thing has remained the same: what keeps him going. His players talk about “their why.” Smart’s why? Well, it’s the players, the relationships and the life lessons the game of football can teach an individual.

“The draft, we had the draft and it was an honor to see the kids that played at UGA and I went in their homes and talked about getting a degree and becoming a man and having an opportunity to play in the National Football League. They realize that dream,” Smart said during an interview earlier this spring at the 2024 Southern Company Peach Bowl Challenge, asked what it is that keeps him going. “I still get satisfaction from the guys who stick around, stay at Georgia, grow as men and become better people from having been in our program.”

“I think football teaches you a lot of values that you can use in life. It’s not easy. It’s hard. There’s going to be good days and bad days, like life, and you’ve got to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going,” he continued. “The ups and downs. It’s no different than from when I was a player. I had good days and bad days. Sometimes I didn’t think I could ever play the game and then other times I thought I was on top of the world and had a good game. It’s the same way as a coach. You have big wins and big losses. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but you certainly enjoy the ride. That part to me has been the funnest, getting to experience the relationships with the coaches I’ve coached with, to get to come to this event and be around guys I coached on the same staff with, to be around the players that are in the NFL now that I had a chance to coach. Looking back, those relationships are what matter most.”

In his time at Georgia alone, Smart has seen 63 players picked in the NFL Draft including 17 first round selections. He has more first-rounders than losses as a head coach, is on the same pace as Nick Saban for first-rounders and actually has more overall selections in his first eight years than his former boss.

Smart though doesn’t see it as a competition. He’s grateful for the lessons learned from Saban, among other greats of the college game. Without those years under their wing, he’s almost certain he wouldn’t be where he is today.

“Having coached with Bobby Bowden, Mark Richt, Nick Saban, coached alongside some other greats that are now head coaches all over the country, probably the biggest thing to me is the relationships I have with those people. They shed kind of light on my career and help me,” Smart said. “Nick was tremendous. My father was tremendous to impart knowledge. It’s really cool at these events because you get to sit around and share knowledge with other guys that are your peers, and you grow as a coach.”

“Maybe more recently, it’s that coaches don’t enjoy the profession and they dislike it and they just do it for the money,” he added, asked what the biggest misconception about coaches is. “I still do what I do every day for the relationships.”

Smart’s Bulldogs enter the 2024 season as favorites to take home a third national title in four seasons. To do so, Georgia will have to navigate a tough schedule that features a trio of road tests unlike any other team in the country will face: Alabama, Texas and Ole Miss. UGA also plays rivals Auburn, Florida and Tennessee and opens the season with ACC favorite Clemson in Atlanta.

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