Friends and Foes: Longtime pals and former teammates Bobo and Smart to square off in SEC championship

Mike Bobo and Kirby Smart have been friends for most of their adult lives and one of the things that keeps them together is their enjoyment of competition.

But when Bobo’s Georgia offense matches up with Smart’s Alabama defense, Bobo thinks the real duel will be between the players on the field and not the coaches on the headsets.

“We’re getting ready to play Alabama,” Bobo said. “I’m excited for these players and we’re excited as coaches to be involved in the (Southeastern Conference) championship. But the bottom line is we’re getting ready for an opponent — that team we’re watching on tape. We’ve got to worry 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.”

The matchup between Bobo’s offense and Smart’s defense will be one of the highlights in Saturday’s SEC Championship game. Georgia is ranked No. 3 in the league in scoring offense (38.0 points per game) and total offense (463.7 yards per game). Alabama is ranked No. 1 in the league in scoring defense (9.2 points per game) and total defense (233.7 yards per game).

“I’m not really excited about any of them after watching them (Alabama’s defense) on tape,” Bobo said. “They’re a pretty formidable opponent. You really can’t find a lot of answers just watching tape. They really do an outstanding job of stopping everything the teams they play do. It’s going to be a tough challenge, which I know our guys are excited about. We don’t have to play perfect, but we’re going to have to play good to play well on offense.”

Bobo is in his sixth season as Georgia’s offensive coordinator. Smart is in his fifth season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. But their relationship goes back to their playing days at Georgia in the mid-1990s, when Bobo was a quarterback and Smart was a defensive back. They also coached together at Georgia with Mark Richt in 2005.

“They are good friends, and they’re going head-to-head, basically,” Richt said. “It’s our offense versus their defense, so there’s a lot of pride there. They want to win. They’re both highly competitive guys. They love football, and they’re great football coaches. They’re super-competitive, they want to win, and they certainly want to win against one of their best friends in life that they’re going to have to talk with and deal with for the rest of the year and the rest of their career. That is an interesting matchup right there.”

Both Smart and Bobo are the sons of coaches and they first met when Bobo’s father coached at Thomasville High School and Smart’s father coached at Bainbridge High School. They first arrived on Georgia’s campus about the same time as current Florida coach Will Muschamp and when former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley was a graduate assistant. They have remained close over the years and Bobo said they had a reunion at Smart’s house last summer. Smart won the 2009 Frank Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach and the 2012 AFCA Assistant Coach of they Year. Bobo is a finalist for the Broyles Award this year.

“We’ve tended to compete at everything we’ve ever done, whether it’s cards or golf or who can get to the store fastest, it’s just one of those things,” Bobo said. “It never ends pretty, so we’ll just see. It’s not really about who wins or loses but who talks the most. That’s usually in golf and he’s usually got the better partner, by the way. But this is a game, he’s not on the field and I’m not on the field. We’ve got to go out there and help put our players in the best position to win and execute. Hopefully that’s what we’ll do on Saturday.”

Bobo and Smart were on Richt’s staff together in 2005. Bobo stayed at Georgia and took over as Richt’s offensive coordinator and play caller. Smart, who had been on Nick Saban’s staff at LSU, rejoined Saban with the Miami Dolphins and came with him to Alabama in 2007.

“Kirby, first of all, has a great personality, a great competitive character about him to affect the players,” Saban said. “The players love him and respond to him extremely well. He’s a very hard worker, a bright guy. He’s really done a phenomenal job for us.

“​He’s as fine of an assistant as I’ve ever had. It’s great to work with him because I’m kind of a defensive guy, and he’s kind of grown up within our system, with us. When you got somebody like him that thinks a lot like you think, it really makes it a lot more efficient and effective in terms of the preparation and the execution, the implementation of that in the game.”

In Smart’s tenure Alabama has been consistently ranked among the tops in the country and the Crimson Tide has won two national titles in that span. Last year Alabama finished first in the country in all five major statistical categories — scoring defense (8.2 points per game), total defense (183.6 yards per game), rushing defense (72.2 yards per game), passing defense (183.6 yards per game and pass efficiency defense (83.69 rating).

​“Kirby has done a phenomenal job here,” Saban said. “He’s been assistant coach of the year again and again — very well deserved. He just does an exceptionally good job in all areas, recruiting, getting along with other people on the staff. You name it, he does it extremely well.”