College Sports

More than a decade later, Will Muschamp, Kirby Smart still ‘like-minded’ on defense

It’s been 15 years since Will Muschamp and Kirby Smart shared a sideline, and even that was just for a season.

At Georgia, the former college teammates played one season together, then both coached at Valdosta State in 2000 and reunited again at LSU in 2004.

Those two coaching stints, while brief, formed the basis for a deep friendship and mutual admiration that lasts to this day.

“Where we became closer was the opportunity he gave me to come to Valdosta State, and we worked together there, and then we worked together at LSU,” Smart said on last week’s SEC teleconference. “And those two years we spent in the same staff, we probably bonded more than we did while we were (at Georgia).”

But there’s more than just friendship and respect between Muschamp and Smart. Even after years since their last one-season collaboration, even after plenty of other jobs since then, there are fundamental similarities between how these defensive-minded coaches approach that side of the ball.

That’s what Muschamp said Tuesday.

“I think there’s a lot of carryover. I think philosophically, you know, that’s the one thing that when you are like-minded with with other coaches, and you believe some of the same beliefs as far as how you want to play, how you want to play up front and how you want to coach things, and I think there’s a lot of carryover between that. There’s been a lot of time and separation since we’ve actually coached together back at LSU in 2004 but you know, I think philosophically there’s a lot of like-minded ideas,” Muschamp said.

Muschamp has built his career as a defensive guru, a master of developing NFL talent and top-rated units. Smart has a similar reputation. With both coming from the Nick Saban coaching tree, it’s not exactly surprising that they share some defensive philosophies.

Indeed, both Muschamp and Smart have acknowledged the influence of Saban in building a foundation and culture at their respective programs, from discipline to recruiting.

Defensively speaking, Muschamp’s scheme incorporates a little bit of everything, starting with a look up front that straddles the line between 3-4 and 4-3 with the BUCK position. Smart, on the other hand, also has a hybrid spot — the STAR position, which takes on both linebacker and defensive back responsibilities — and his overall approach is complicated as well.

But as Muschamp reminded everyone Tuesday, he’s a long ways removed from his time with Smart, especially their time as players at Georgia. Outside of recruiting, Muschamp said, he’s only been back to Athens four times — twice as a coach at Auburn, once as the coach at LSU and once as the coach at South Carolina. Saturday’s matchup will mark his fifth trip in 25 years.

And as he’s said before, Muschamp isn’t particularly fond of playing old friends, because when it comes to game day, he’s all business.

“Not a lot (of nostalgia going back to Georgia),” Muschamp said of how he would feel. “I’m worried about the ball game and winning. So don’t don’t really think too much about it.”

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