Smart: 'I couldn't live with myself' if he left Alabama before playoff

Alabama defensive coordinator and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks during a news conference for the Cotton Bowl, a college football playoff game, on Monday in Dallas. (AP photo)
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Alabama defensive coordinator and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks during a news conference for the Cotton Bowl, a college football playoff game, on Monday in Dallas. (AP photo)

DALLAS -- Kirby Smart wore a bland dress shirt and a blue blazer to a news conference Monday, as if to appease the masses on two SEC campuses, even if that’s not really possible. Because in the unique world of college football coaching, where a man can hold two jobs at once, appeasing competing fan bases just isn’t happening.

"One day at a time, brother. One day at a time,” Smart said Monday when asked how he’s managing to squeeze two jobs, as Alabama’s defensive coordinator and Georgia’s new head coach, into a 24-hour day. “There’s light through the tunnel, I keep telling myself. But at the end of the day, it was the right thing to do. I wanted to do the right thing by both employers. I wanted to do the right thing for the kids. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself (if he left Alabama). To not coach in this game, I couldn’t even imagine. It’s a no-brainer.”

Smart is right, and anybody who considers him disloyal to either Alabama or Georgia just doesn’t get it.

It’s a unique situation. It’s a difficult situation. In no other profession does this happen. Imagine the No. 2 executive at Coke finishing out his duties for two months after he already has been named the No. 1 executive at Pepsi. Now add to this that the same executive had been recruiting for Coke and now is recruiting for Pepsi … while he is still being paid by Coke.

This only happens in college football because of the timing of firings and hirings. Smart coached Alabama’s defense in the SEC championship game, was named as Mark Richt’s replacement at Georgia the next day, immediately went to work recruiting for the Bulldogs, then returned to Tuscaloosa last week to prepare for the Crimson Tide’s college football semifinal against Michigan State in Thursday night’s Cotton Bowl.

Smart fielded a number of questions about managing his time and divided loyalties and admitted it hasn’t been easy. He tried in two separate news conferences to deflect the attention off himself and put it on Alabama players and this week’s game: “It’s not about me. It’s about this game and about these players, who’ve earned the right to be here.”

Nice sentiment. Not working.

The questions kept coming. He referenced his “time management challenge.” He reiterated previous comments about receiving advice on the balancing act from other coaches, notably the Falcons’ Dan Quinn (who unofficially accepted the Atlanta job while coaching Seattle’s defense in the Super Bowl). He talked about sacrificing family time and sleep but never suggested his duties at either job have, or will, suffer.

“The focus for me is winning this game and finishing it out the right way,” he said. “There’s nothing more that’s gonna help me at the University of Georgia than winning a national title at the University of Alabama. That’s my focus and goal right now. If you get past that, you’re lost.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban has been in this situation before, most recently when former offensive coordinator Jim McElwain took the Colorado State job. There was never a thought by either party of Smart not coaching Alabama’s defense this week, even if that meant switching allegiances during a crucial recruiting period.

Smart said of Saban “understands” the situation.

“Why change something that’s been working?” he asked. “We understand the stain and stresses. And, sure, it’s tough at times to know we’re recruiting the same kids. But we’re all professionals. We’re not out there bashing each other. Ultimately each kid has to decide what’s best for him. There’s good and bad about both places.”

What was his Georgia recruiting pitch?

“’Do you want to play? If you want to play, let’s go,’” Smart said, echoing his comments to recruits. “As for the future of Alabama, it’s up to those guys to sell that.  I’m not into saying negative things about Alabama. There’s not a negative thing to say. It’s a great place. But at the University of Georgia, if you want to play, let’s go.”

He said he doesn’t “feel any mixed loyalties” and that when he’s recruiting for Georgia, “I’m working towards an end goal of building a successful program. But when I’m coaching these guys and I’m in the meeting room with them, I think everyone will tell you I’m 100 percent there.”

Several Alabama players, Smart said, have thanked him for staying. “The guys on this team don’t care who I’m recruiting for Georgia,” he said. “They want to win.”

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