ATLANTA — On the eve of the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T, Georgia coach Kirby Smart reflected on his time under Nick Saban at Alabama and what he learned from the five-time champion coach.
Smart argued that what Saban has done since taking over the program in 2007 — winning four national titles and five SEC championships — is “taken for granted.”
“I’m certainly honored and privileged to be competing against a great university that’s kind of been the landmark of college football over the last 10 to 12 seasons,” he said, “and I know my experiences there working with the late Mal Moore, Bill Battle, Coach Saban himself have helped me tremendously in my career. They’ve done a tremendous job, and I think it’s kind of lost in the shuffle of how well they have been able to compete at a high level for a long time and almost take it for granted at times.”
He said that the biggest thing he learned from that time was how Saban fostered a commitment to the organization.
“He never asked anybody in the organization to work any harder than he did,” Smart said. “He held every person on the staff — and I’m not talking about just the coaching staff, I’m talking about the entire organization, to be at their best. And I think that’s sometimes a lost art in some organizations.”
Saban, who is a perfect 11-0 against his former assistants all time, said that Smart and his staff have done a “fabulous job” of recruiting and developing players.
Saban’s advice to Smart when Smart left for Georgia, he said, was to “Be your own man. Be yourself. Do it the way you think it ought to be done. Don’t try to be somebody else.”
Saban, who turned 66 this past October, said that he’s still motivated and hates to lose.
“I’m always looking for the next challenge,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the way I was raised or whatever, that you’re kind of only as good as your last play, as your last game. … In a competitive business like we’re in where there’s always a next challenge, there’s always a next game, there’s always a better team to play.”
On Monday night in Atlanta, Saban and Smart will face one another for the first time.
The biggest challenge in the game will be combating Alabama’s physical offensive and defensive lines, Smart said, while Saban pointed toward his team’s overall execution as being the lynchpin to coming away with a win.
Coincidentally, both teams will be doing much of the same activities in the day before the game. Smart joked that “I’m just doing whatever he did.”
And that means Georgia will go see the movie “12 Strong,” which tells the story of a Special Forces team in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks. In fact, Smart said it’s the same theater where Alabama will be going to see a movie, and they had to set it up so they would be at least 10 minutes apart.
Saban, who had his team watch “12 Strong” prior to beating Clemson in the Allstate Sugar Bowl last week, chimed in.
“Yeah, it’s a good movie,” he said. “I don’t know what we’re watching. Don’t ask.”