ATHENS – We know from talking to Mike Bobo on Tuesday that he and close friend Kirby Smart first met as youngsters when they were ball boys for their fathers, who coached at rival high schools Thomasville and Bainbridge in the 1980s.
Bobo, Georgia’s offensive coordinator, spoke extensively about his relationship with Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator, as the best friends prepare to match wits in Saturday’s SEC Championship game.
We don’t know much about Smart’s side of the relationship because, well, Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn’t allow him speak to the media. Saban’s ascribes to the Bill Belichick coaching model where he insists on doing all the talking for the team to the exclusion of assistant coaches and all but a handful of players.
“I’m jealous,” joked Bobo, who has twice-a-week media responsibilities to fill with the Bulldogs. “I’ve told Claude (Felton) that several times.”
Like it or not, Bobo’s relationship with Smart is front and center this week as their high-powered units face off in a game that will determine which team plays Notre Dame for the national championship. Smart’s unit is ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense and points allowed while Bobo has Georgia’s offense on a record-setting pace in which it has already set records for points in a season and is on track to set the school record for total offense.
That it could come down to how these two South Georgia boys and former UGA teammates compete is somewhat fitting considering the competitive nature of their friendship.
“We’ve tended to compete at everything we’ve ever done, from cards to golf to who can get to the store the fastest,” said Bobo, who played quarterback for the Bulldogs from 1994-97; Smart was a defensive back from 1995-98. “It’s just one of those things. It never ends pretty, so we’ll just see. . . . But this is a game. He ain’t on the field and I ain’t on the field. We’ve got to go out there and put our players in the best position to win and execute. Hopefully that’s what we’ll do on Saturday.”
Bobo was asked if he was excited about trying to outwit his friend/foe.
“I’m not really excited about any of it watching them on tape,” he said. “They’re pretty formidable opponent. You really can’t find a lot of answers watching tape. They do an outstanding job really just stopping everything the teams they play do. It’s going to be a tough challenge, which I know our guys are excited about. We’re not going to have to play perfect but we’re going to have to play good and play well on offense.”
Bobo and Smart are part of a small coaching fraternity that blossomed out of the Ray Goff era at Georgia. Bobo and Florida head coach Will Muschamp played together for one year under Goff and they were joined at different times by Travis Jones (now in the NFL), Brian Bohannon (now a Georgia Tech assistant) and Derek Dooley (who served as a grad assistant).
“We all talk and we’re all in coaching and everybody wishes everybody well,” Bobo said. “Obviously we’re all in the same league and play against each other, so it’s a tough deal and we don’t talk much during the season. But if one of us is out of it or not playing each other, we’re pulling for each other.”
This past summer they all gathered at Smart’s house for a get-together with the families.”Just hanging out with the kids and having fun, not really much talking football,” Bobo said
But Bobo and Smart, who were in each others’ weddings, have always been the closest of the group. They even used to ride together sometimes on spring recruiting trips. But they had to give that up because it became too competitive.
“We’ve agreed not to talk about recruiting,” Bobo said. “We don’t talk much hardly any during the season. It might be a text message after each game, congrats or keep your head up, one of those tings. But during the season there’s not much communication.”
And definitely not this week.
“We’re getting ready to play Alabama,” Bobo said. “I’m excited for these players. Obviously we’re excited as coaches to be in the SEC championship. But the bottom line is we’re getting ready for an opponent, the team we’re watching on tape. We’re worrying about what we can control and that’s executing our plays, not who’s on the other sideline or who the other team is. We’ve got to handle ourselves offensively.”
Bobo’s squad has done that well enough this season to earn him a spot among the five finalists for the Frank Broyles Award, which goes annually to the best assistant coach in college football. Should the Bulldogs upset Alabama and Smart’s ballyhooed defense, that’d go a long way toward Bobo locking up the award.
Of course, Smart knows all about the Broyles Award.
“He won it,” Bobo said with a laugh. “First.”