Kirby Smart is going back to the Southeastern Conference, but this time as a coach.
Smart, who was an All-SEC safety at Georgia in the mid-1990s, is leaving his position as a graduate assistant at Florida State to become the secondary coach for national champion Louisiana State.
For the past two seasons, Smart has coached FSU’s cornerbacks for defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews. And if he received no full-time offers from Division-I programs, Smart was preparing to stay on with the Seminoles in 2004.
But on Monday night, Louisiana State coach Nick Saban lured Smart away with a full-time offer to coach the Tigers’ secondary.
“I went and interviewed on Sunday and Coach Saban called me last night around 8:30 to tell me he was thinking about it,” Smart said. “Then around 9:30, he called me to tell me I got the job. I’ll be leaving tomorrow so I can be there for the recruiting weekend they have coming up.
"I'm so fired up.”
Smart, who previously served as a defensive coordinator at Division-II Valdosta State, took the G.A. position at Florida State for precisely this opportunity. He knew that working with coaches like Andrews and head coach Bobby Bowden would provide him a tremendous learning opportunity, not to mention some high-quality references for his resume.
“I came here so I could get an opportunity to go somewhere like LSU,” Smart said. “It was an unbelievable opportunity for me. Florida State is one of the premier programs in the country and the staff is incredible. Between Coach Andrews, Coach Bowden, Coach (Kevin) Steele … that pretty much did it for me.”
Steele actually might have played the most significant role in Smart’s hiring. The FSU linebackers coach is a longtime friend of Saban’s, going back to their individual relationships with Houston Texans coach Dom Capers.
“Coach Steele and Coach Saban have some history together,” Smart said. “And Coach Saban was looking for a young guy because he’s real hands-on coach – he’s considered the best secondary coach in the country right now because their pass defense was so good.
“This will be a learning opportunity for me. He can shape me into what he wants instead of hiring someone who’s older and might be more stubborn.”
Smart’s departure comes at a somewhat difficult time with National Signing Day a week away. But he said he was up-front with all of FSU’s cornerback recruits about the fact that he would likely be interviewing for full-time jobs at other schools.
“It’s tough, but they understand,” Smart said. “It’s different when a full-time coach leaves because they ask why you’re leaving. But the kids understand I’m leaving for a full-time job. Plus I’ve told them not to go to a school because of a coach because you never know what will happen.”
Returning to the SEC will provide Smart plenty of opportunities for reunions. The Tigers will plat at Athens this fall, plus LSU’s defensive coordinator is Will Muschamp, who played with Smart at Georgia.