“It’s not about hate for me,” Smart said. “I don’t look at it as hating any of their players; I recruited a lot of them. I don’t look at it as hating their coaches because I like a lot of their coaches. I’ve known all those guys for a long time. I have a lot of respect for Hugh. I look at it as a hell of a fierce rivalry.”
Smart, of course, has been on all sides of the Auburn rivalry. After he experienced it as a player at Georgia, he spent nine seasons at Alabama, the final eight as defensive coordinator. Now he’s won seven of eight against the Tigers as the Bulldogs’ head coach.
“Georgia-Auburn is a border-war rivalry,” Smart said. “Alabama-Auburn is, obviously, an in-state rivalry. That’s on another whole level of difference being over there because they live with it for 365 days. You know, we share that with several other out-of-state rivalries. There’s no diminishing of the rivalry.”
Smart said it has been his observation that rivalries are way more intense for fan bases than they are for coaches and players. The game participants typically have some kind of relationship with the people on the other sideline.
That doesn’t mean they don’t want to win as much. On the contrary.
“That’s why you get in this business, to play in these type games in this type of atmosphere,” Smart said. “Fan bases may not like to hear that because they like to hate each other.”
Freeze echoed that sentiment.
“I’m not big on hate. I’m really not,” Freeze said. “… This means something to so many people. So, we should compete in a way out of love for our people, not necessarily for hate for other people. That’s kind of the way I operate. I hope we compete because we love Auburn, and it means something to the Auburn people to compete against Georgia. So, that’ll be my approach.”
Between Alabama-Auburn now and Ole Miss-Mississippi State in the past, Freeze has been involved in some rivalries that have been known to get ugly at times.
Auburn-Georgia – known as the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry – long has been described as a “cousins rivalry.” Ever since Auburn alum Vince Dooley left the Tigers’ football program to become the Bulldogs’ head coach in December 1963, there has been regular crossover between the coaching staffs.
Georgia defensive coordinator Will Muschamp actually has had three different coaching stints on the Plains: as a graduate assistant (1995-96) and twice as defensive coordinator (2006-07 and 2015). Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was at Auburn in 2021. Meanwhile, UGA running backs coach Dell McGee and offensive line coach Stacy Searels both played at Auburn and worked there as assistant coaches or analysts.
Currently the Tigers don’t have any coaches with Georgia ties. But Auburn always has had a huge alumni base in Atlanta, as does Georgia, of course.
Said Smart: “There’s not a lot of difference in our fans and their fans a lot of times, in terms of where they’re from, that kind of thing. Our players are similar to their players, so I have respect for them, not hate.”