Reports: Kirby Smart to be named Georgia’s next head coach

Kirby Smart has helped Nick Saban and Alabama win three national titles.

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Two days after announcing the most successful coach in program history was stepping down, the Georgia Bulldogs’ coaching search has reached its conclusion.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, a former Bulldogs defensive back and assistant coach, is returning to his alma mater as the program’s next head coach, according to multiple reports. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first broke the news. Smart’s hire can not be made official until after Alabama plays Florida in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday.

While Georgia was unequivocally the best open coaching job on the market, and remains one of the top jobs in the country overall, it was a poorly kept secret that athletic director Greg McGarity favored Smart to replace Mark Richt, who led the program to two SEC titles in 15 seasons. Though there is obvious room for improvement in terms of competing for national and conference titles on a regular basis — a habit Smart has formed under Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa — Smart has enormous shoes to fill in his first head coaching gig.

Richt posted a 145-51 career record with the Bulldogs and will attempt to complete his 10th season of double-digit wins in Georgia’s yet-to-be-announced bowl game. Only Saban, Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops and Gary Patterson own a higher career winning percentage among active FBS coaches.

(Georgia was Richt’s first head coaching job as well. The former Florida State offensive coordinator was hired in December 2000.)

Smart comes with plenty of pedigree after helping the Crimson Tide capture three national championships in his eight seasons pacing the sidelines alongside Saban.

Since 2008, Alabama boasts the nation’s No. 1 defense in most major categories, including points- and yards allowed per game. If Alabama captures the conference championship this weekend —  its fifth appearance in SEC title game over the past eight years — it will more than likely earn its second straight berth into the College Football Playoff field.

Now comes the question that has dogged Smart’s coaching resume: Can he escape Saban’s shadow? The results vary: Past Saban assistants like Jimbo Fisher (Florida State) and Jim McElwain (Colorado State, Florida) have found head coaching success, while others like Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley have stumbled at Power 5 jobs.

"Oh, he’ll be a great head coach," said McElwain, who coached alongside Smart at Alabama, earlier this week. "He’s been trained by the best and that’s something that we’re both very fortunate to be around and a part of how Coach Saban sets it up. … I just wish he’d get (a job) on the other side of the country where we wouldn’t have to see him except for in the national championship game or something like that."

Smart’s name has popped up in multiple coaching searches over the past few years, including, most recently, the South Carolina job vacated by Steve Spurrier, but it’s clear he’s waited on a home run-type opportunity to leave an already well-paid position with Alabama. With one of the nation’s most fertile recruiting states, no in-state recruiting rival, improving facilities and a top-tier gameday atmosphere, the former Bulldog player is coming home for a reason.