HOOVER, Ala. — Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Florida counterpart Jim McElwain might be rival SEC East coaches now, but both still share what Smart calls “a mutual respect” after surviving and thriving under Nick Saban at Alabama.
Smart, of course, was Saban’s right-hand man on defense, presiding over a slew of top-10 units as coordinator. McElwain ran the Crimson Tide offense for four of Smart’s eight-year tenure in Tuscaloosa (2008-2011). Together, they helped Alabama capture a pair of national championships in 2009 and 2011 while setting the tone for a decade of football dominance.
Working for Saban wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, though.
“I sat side-by-side (with McElwain) in staff meetings,” Smart said Tuesday at SEC Media Days. “None of you guys have been privy to a Nick Saban staff meeting, but when you are, you have to hold hands sometimes. He’s been my kumbaya guy sometimes.
“He’s fun to be around, great personality, great family. I’ve got a lot of respect for Jim and what he’s done as a football coach.”
As a friend, McElwain is plenty pleased to Smart land one of the country’s most coveted coaching jobs, and at Smart’s alma mater no less. But when the two teams square off in Jacksonville this fall, with major division title implications abound, there won’t be much hand-holding or reminiscing — at least for the ensuing 60 minutes.
“I’m excited for him,” the second-year Gators coach said. “And we’ll get together and laugh about some stories, and that’s always fun. And yet it doesn’t matter. When you kind of blow the whistle, you know, it’s your guys against their guys and see who comes out.
“But I do know this. Well deserved. He’ll do a great job. That is a great job. I think everybody that’s ever kind of talked, you know, has always thought that University of Georgia job was outstanding. And, you know what, he’s put his time in and deserves it.”
Georgia and Florida kick off at EverBank Field on Oct. 29. Smart’s defense held Florida to just eight points of offense in last December’s SEC Championship game.