Before becoming the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, Kirby Smart had been with Nick Saban for over a decade. He coached safeties under Saban with the Miami Dolphins, and joined him at Alabama, where he served as the longtime Crimson Tide defensive coordinator.
At the end of the 2016 season, an Alabama national title year, Smart left to take over Georgia. While he is yet to break through for a national title in Athens, he did win the SEC in 2017, and took the Dawgs to the championship game vs. Alabama.
Saban has had a number of top assistants go on to be prominent head coaches. Smart is probably the top example, and has come closest to replicating Saban’s success elsewhere, even if there is still work to do.
Among the biggest factors is recruiting. In 2018, Georgia knocked Alabama from the recruiting throne, signing the No. 1 class in the country. It was the first time a non-Saban staff had pulled it off in years.
Apparently, recruiting is a bone of contention between Nick Saban and Kirby Smart since Smart left for Georgia, and not just because they recruit many of the same players.
In a recent radio interview, SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum hinted at a particular incident that drove a wedge between Saban and his former top lieutenant.
Finebaum told 680 The Fan’s Cellini and Dimino that when Smart left, he used inside info of where recruits were on Alabama’s big board, and used it to recruit against his former employer.
Via Saturday Down South:
“They pointed towards Kirby and what really created the friction that exists to this day is that Alabama officials and coaches blame Kirby Smart for ripping off the inner sanctum recruiting room — which is in Saban’s office. If you go to the secondary office where they keep all the prospects, what I mean by that, Kirby went to recruits and said, ‘Hey listen. We want you, you are No. 1 on our list but I know for a fact Alabama has you third or fourth or fifth.’ And that cost Alabama some key recruits and they have not forgiven Kirby Smart yet in Tuscaloosa.”
There are certainly no rules against that kind of recruiting tactic, but per Finebaum, it rubbed Saban the wrong way.
Obviously Alabama isn’t hurting too much on the trail. The Crimson Tide bounced back for the No. 1 class in 2019. And wew’re definitely all here for the continuation of the Alabama-Georgia rivalry, even if it may only come in the form of SEC Championships or the College Football Playoff most years.