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Sep 21, 2006
October 8th, 2016 08:35 AM

From their time as Georgia teammates for a season, to coaching colleagues on two staffs, to one-time housemates, to being on opposite sides during their climb up the career ladder, Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp have developed something that hasn’t changed: a close friendship.
Now, after both landed new gigs last December, they go up against each other for the first time as head coaches Saturday night.
It’s Smart’s Georgia team against Muschamp’s South Carolina squad.
“Will and I are good friends,” Smart said. “We always have been, we always will be. It is what it is. I had to go against Will in the national championship game. That’s really hard because somebody’s got to lose. That’s tough, but it’s also the business we’re in.”
They’ve set aside the friendship before like last year’s Iron Bowl game and when Alabama with Smart as defensive coordinator beat a Texas team with Muschamp as defensive coordinator for the 2009 national title.
“I think both of those guys have brought that competitive spirit that they had when they played to coaching,” said former NFL running back Robert Edwards who played in the Georgia secondary in 1994 along with Muschamp’s senior season. “You’ve seen the excitement that Will has on the sideline when he’s in a happy mood and when he’s in a disappointing mood. I think he’s really involved with the game and his players, the same way he was when we played. He wants to win badly and he loves the game and I think the same goes with Kirby. He was a workaholic when he played. I think he’s the same type of coach. He’s the type of coach that’s going to find any edge that he can get to win a game. He’s highly competitive as well. I think those guys are two a kind.”
One day, this game could be circled and underlined nationally as a battle for SEC East supremacy.
Not now. Both have teams coming off two-game losing streaks and looking up at Tennessee and Florida in the SEC standings.
That doesn’t mean the stakes will feel any smaller for them.
“It’s just a tremendous amount of competiveness between the two of them,” said Mike Collins, who served on the same defensive staff with Smart and Muschamp at LSU in 2004 and is now defensive coordinator at Louisiana-Monroe. “They’re going to be trying to be getting after each other’s butt. It’s just their nature, both of them.”
They first coached together for a year in 2000 at Valdosta State when Muschamp was defensive coordinator and Smart coached the secondary. Smart lived with Will and his wife Carol for a month or two until he got a place of his own.
“We were both high energy and hard-nosed coaches,” Smart said.
Muschamp, who got the nickname “Coach Boom” because of his sideline antics at Auburn, “may be a little extra when it comes to his excitement. Kirby is a little bit more calm when it comes to his excitement,” Edwards said.
Not too calm judging by how Smart can go airborne at times during a game and may have a staff member pull him back from the field of play.
Smart said he’s not sure he knows “Coach Boom,” because “I think he went to coach Boom at Auburn and I was at the Dolphins at the time.” But, Smart said, “he’s always been fiery. There’s some folks at Valdosta State that can tell you some stories about fiery.”
The sons of high school coaches got to know each other when Smart was redshirted as a freshman in 1994 in what was Muschamp’s senior season.
“We were both kind of looking up to Will and riding his excitement and his leadership,” said Edwards, a sophomore at the time and now Greene County football coach.
Both Smart and Msuchamp were safeties and their fathers sat together at games that season, but Smart said he “really didn’t know Will,” who came to Georgia as a walk-on.
“Will was a fifth-year senior and I was a first-year freshman,” Smart said. “I was the little ..... on scout team running around. He was big man on campus and I was a shaved head freshman. We didn’t hang out.”
They each held introductory news conferences for their new jobs on Dec. 7.
“They both hate to lose, especially going against each other, they never want to lose,” said former Georgia linebacker Brandon Tolbert, a teammate of both and close friends with Smart. “Probably as competitive against each other as they are anybody. That’s the way all of our friends were. …I know this is a big week for them because they both need to win.”
Collins remains in touch with both Smart and Muschamp, who he calls good friends. He said he spoke to Smart a couple of weeks back and he’s exchanged text messages with Muschamp during the season.
At LSU under Nick Saban, Collins coached the linebackers along with Muschamp, who was defensive coordinator. Smart was the secondary coach.
“A lot of guys grow close to guys from being on staffs with them,” Smart said. “Then you end up having to play against them.”
Now in the SEC East.
“It’s South Carolina and Georgia, it’s a great rivalry,” said Muschamp, Florida’s coach from 2011 to 2014.
“It’s an important game all the time for both schools and certainly having both schools coming off back-to-back losses is a critical game for both squads. I got a lot of respect for Kirby. He’s a great friend. Regardless of what happens Saturday or 10 years from now, we will always be friends.”
Smart sees it the same way.
“He and I will remain friends after it,” he said, “but for this day, we’re both going at each other and our team will.”


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