From Teammates to Colleagues to Enemies: Will Muschamp, Kirby Smart's Wild Bond

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterOctober 4, 2016

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart (left) and South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp (right)
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart (left) and South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp (right)AP Images / BR

ATLANTA — In a job interview in south Georgia in 2000, Kirby Smart sent his potential boss storming out of a gym angry, frustrated and fuming—just a few hours after trying to convince that boss he was the right man for an entry-level college football coaching position.

That boss hired Smart anyway. His name is Will Muschamp.

Smart and Muschamp—who will square off this weekend as the head coaches of Georgia and South Carolina, respectively—go way back to their playing days, when both shined between the hedges as defensive players for the Georgia Bulldogs.

Muschamp, a former walk-on safety from Rome, Georgia, evolved into a team captain by his senior season in 1994. During his final season between the hedges, Muschamp took a redshirting defensive back, Smart, under his wing.

"Kirby was just a really good athlete and really could run well," Muschamp told Bleacher Report in May. "He was instinctive, and I thought at the time that he was going to be a really good player."

The two never got to play together, but that didn't stop the former walk-on from talking up Smart when he got down. After all, Muschamp got to see—and sometimes play against—Smart, while Smart was working with the scout team.

"Like we all do early in our careers, when he was getting redshirted, he was wondering 'What am I doing here? Am I ever going to play?' I do remember telling him, 'Hey man, you're going to persevere. You're going to be fine.'"

Fine, he was.

Smart capped off his senior season with All-SEC honors and notched 13 interceptions during his time in the Classic City.

Kirby Smart (left) while playing defensive back at Georgia
Kirby Smart (left) while playing defensive back at GeorgiaAndy Lyons/Getty Images

But when he was cut by the Indianapolis Colts prior to the 1999 season, Smart embarked on his coaching career. He spent the 1999 season as a quality control assistant on Jim Donnan's staff at Georgia.

"We didn't have any grad assistant jobs open, so I created an administrative job in which he helped us evaluate tape on our opponents and also worked on our self-scouting," Donnan told Bleacher Report. "He was always a quick and decisive guy in analyzing, and I saw in our youth camps his ability to teach fundamentals."

It was in 2000, though, when Smart and Muschamp crossed paths again.

Muschamp had just landed a job as the defensive coordinator at Valdosta State under Chris Hatcher, who was entering his first season as the head coach of the Blazers. When Muschamp and Hatcher began forming their staff, an old friend called Muschamp.

"He reached out and said that he'd love the opportunity to talk about a job—and immediately came down to interview," Muschamp said of Smart.

Sep 10, 2016; Starkville, MS, USA;  South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp talks into his headset during the second half of the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State won 27-14.  Mandatory Credit: M
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

That interview was a mere formality, even though Smart didn't know it at the time.

"It was like, 'All right, Will, we've got $8,000 left in the budget, who can we get as our secondary coach?'" Hatcher told Bleacher Report. "He said, 'I've got this guy Kirby that I played with.' I knew Kirby's daddy really well and remembered Kirby as a player—I think he picked us off three times in two years at Kentucky. I remember him as a really scrappy player."

Smart didn't exactly ace that interview.

"He denies this, but he put 12 guys on the board while diagramming a play," Muschamp said. "I told him, 'Hell, if we play with 12, we're going to be pretty good.'"

The details of that story are disputed, though.

"See, Will thinks it was 12, but I remember it being 10 men on the field," said Hatcher, who's now the head coach at Samford. "He didn't have 11. I know that as a fact. My offensive line coach, who's with me now, he remembers it as 10 men too."

Smart settled the debate at SEC media days in July.

"They kept laughing during that interview, and I couldn't figure out what they were laughing about," he said. "Muschamp says that I had 12, but I actually had 10."

Kirby Smart is 3-2 in his first season as Georgia's head coach
Kirby Smart is 3-2 in his first season as Georgia's head coachDale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In the grand scheme of things, it didn't matter.

"Little did he know that we were going to give him the job anyway," Hatcher said.

Smart's lucky, because later that day, he got his revenge.

"What [Muschamp] never tells anybody is, later that day we played a pickup basketball game," Smart said. "Me and Coach Hatcher beat his eyes out, and he ran out of the gym mad. We didn't see him for about four hours because we beat him with the mercy rule in basketball."

"That's not true! I hope he coaches as well as his memory is, because it's not very good," Muschamp said a few days later, when he made his rounds at media days. "We didn't play basketball that day, No. 1. No. 2, he did put 12 guys on that board because I made the statement, 'This isn't the Canadian league, and if we play with 12, we're going to play really good defense.'

"The basketball game didn't happen that day. We did play a lot of basketball games, and within those basketball games, it was not unusual to walk out of there with a bloody nose or a black eye, or a bad ankle or a sore back—because there were no fouls called."

Once Muschamp settled down, he and Hatcher huddled and decided on Smart as their new secondary coach. Hatcher knew he had struck coaching gold.

"For roughly $39,000, Valdosta State got Will Muschamp and Kirby Smart to be its defensive coaches," he said. "I'd say we got a pretty good bang for our buck there."

The two were only at Valdosta State together for a year before Muschamp moved on to become LSU's defensive backs coach under then-head coach Nick Saban. But during that time, their bond grew tighter.

"Kirby lived with Carol and I for a couple of months when he moved down there," Muschamp said. "We had children and we had a lot of fun."

Sep 1, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp with his wife Carol following the game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium. South Carolina won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

It wouldn't be long until they were reunited again, this time on Saban's staff at LSU in 2004, Muschamp's final season as the Tigers defensive coordinator and Smart's only year as their secondary coach. During that hiring process, history repeated itself.

"We had an opening for a secondary coach, and I told Nick that this is a guy who would be worth interviewing," Muschamp said. "We interviewed him, and Nick said, 'This is exactly what I'm looking for.'"

They have crossed paths throughout the last decade, first as assistants and now as head coaches.

Through it all, Smart and Muschamp have maintained a close relationship despite the nomadic nature of the profession.

"Just bouncing ideas off each other—we've certainly done that," Muschamp said. "We're alike thinkers where football is concerned and where our families are concerned."

Despite being division rivals, Muschamp has helped Smart as Smart has eased into his first season as the head coach of the Bulldogs.

"He's a very trustworthy friend when it comes to information," Smart said. "When you're talking structure and stuff like that, it's not a big deal. It's a big deal when you're talking about a prospect or where your coaches are going or how you're running a defense or how your players are. But if you're just talking, 'Hey, how many times are you practicing this or when are you starting something,' we share information."

While Smart tapped his good friend for some advice during his transition from an assistant at Alabama to the head coaching job at Georgia, Muschamp has confidence in his longtime friend.

"He doesn't need any of my help," he said at spring meetings in Destin, Florida, in May. "He'll be fine."

They'll share a football field as opposing head coaches for the first time in their careers Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina.

This time, though, the loser probably won't go storming out of the building angry and disappear for four hours.

      

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information is courtesy of Scout.com. Odds provided by Odds Shark.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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