Kirby Smart and Nick Saban have history 

Blake Byler, Contributing Writer

Many Alabama fans thought Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was the heir to throne as Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s longtime defensive coordinator. 

Now, after this season, college football fans are starting to view Smart as the heir to a different throne: the next college football dynasty.

The top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, led by Smart, boast a 12-0 record ahead of their Dec. 4 matchup in Atlanta with No. 3 Alabama. This will be Saban and Smart’s fourth meeting since Smart became head coach, but the two have a longer history.

“I got a lot of respect for him,” Smart said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without him, and there’s no problem with our relationship.”

While Saban was coaching at LSU, Smart became the defensive backs coach in 2004. Following a brief stint as the running backs coach at Georgia, Smart returned to coach under Saban as the safeties coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2006. When Saban left the Dolphins to become the head coach at Alabama in 2007, Smart followed, once again as a defensive backs coach.

Entering the 2008 season, Saban promoted Smart to defensive coordinator, and Smart shined. Alabama’s defenses under Smart were the most feared in all of college football. The team won four national championships with Smart at the helm of the defense, in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015.

Smart won the Broyles Award in 2009 for the best assistant coach in college football and was awarded the American Football Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year in 2012. 

Smart called signals for what many consider to be one of the best defenses in college football history in 2011. Alabama’s defense ranked first in college football in total defense, scoring defense, passing defense and rushing defense, and all 11 starters went on to play in the NFL.

Many Alabama fans wanted Smart to be Alabama’s head coach once Saban retired. But Smart received an offer to coach at Georgia, his alma mater, and couldn’t refuse.

These two coaches met for the first time in the 2017 national championship in Atlanta. Smart’s Bulldogs held a 13-0 halftime lead. Saban inserted quarterback Tua Tagovailoa into the lineup for a comeback. 

The final play was Tagovailoa’s famous “Second and 26” touchdown throw to former Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, which gave Alabama the 26-23 victory in overtime.

The following year, the two coaches met again for the 2018 SEC Championship in the same stadium. Georgia held a 28-14 lead in the third quarter. An injury to Tagovailoa allowed former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts to lead the comeback this time around. 

Hurts guided Alabama to a 35-28 win.

Smart and Saban did not have another meeting until a regular season top-three matchup in Tuscaloosa in 2020. This game was tight at halftime, but Alabama used the second half to pull away to a 41-24 victory behind Smith and quarterback Mac Jones.

This year’s matchup carries as much weight as any of them. Alabama hopes to secure a playoff spot after its Oct. 9 loss to Texas A&M. Smart is still searching for that first elusive win against his former boss.

Every matchup between these coaches has been as top-four teams, and this year is no different. 

Kickoff for the SEC Championship is set for 3 p.m. CT at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The game will be broadcast on CBS.