When Georgia looked for a new head football coach following the 2015 season, the arrows all pointed to Kirby Smart, long-time University of Alabama defensive coordinator and former Bulldog player and assistant coach.
On December 6, 2015, Smart officially came home to Georgia. But he had unfinished business at Alabama which was still in the hunt for a national title. He juggled two jobs for a month until January 11, 2016, when his Crimson Tide team won its fourth national championship in a seven-year span. Twelve hours later, he was in Athens ready to go to work.
When Kirby was named head coach he said “It’s an honor and privilege to return home to the University of Georgia and my home state. 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, one College Football Playoff national title, 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.
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 was also a 2015 finalist for the 2015 Broyles Award. A former standout defensive back and scholar-athlete at Georgia, Smart was 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 rushing yards per game, third in the SEC. He coached Thomas Brown, 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 ranked first nationally in rushing defense (75.7 ypg), third in total defense (276.3 ypg), and third in scoring defense (15.1).
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.
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 letter winner 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).