Sometimes the irony is so thick it drips.
Such will be the case Thursday night in the Rose Bowl.
If you are a Georgia fan, take a good look at the sidelines during the national championship game.
Georgia doesn’t have a defensive coordinator after the firing of Willie Martinez a month ago. Coach Mark Richt still is trying to fill the vacancy.
But when Texas and Alabama play for the title, two of the best defenses in the country will be on display. The irony is in the architects of those defenses.
Both coordinators are former Georgia defensive backs.
Will Muschamp, who played for the Bulldogs in the early 1990s, is the head coach in waiting at Texas. Kirby Smart, who played in the mid and late 1990s, is in charge of Alabama’s stingy, at times scary, defense.
Not only are they Georgia graduates, they are also very much Georgia boys. Muschamp was raised in Rome and Smart down in Bainbridge.
Smart, who coached running backs at Georgia in 2005, has been mentioned as a potential replacement for Martinez.
As Georgia’s defense developed more holes than Augusta National, two of its own developed defenses good enough to be 60 minutes from the national championship.
Think about that.
Not one. But two.
And the men are close friends. Have been for years.
Their Georgia careers overlapped by a season, taking their relationship back to 1994.
“When I visited Georgia, he took me around as my host,” Smart said of Muschamp. “He was a wild man back then.”
Kirby, it may not be Smart to go there.
“I could tell you some stories,” Smart said.
And Muschamp knows some Smart stories.
When he was the defensive coordinator at Valdosta State, Muschamp hired Smart in 2000. Apparently, the job interview made a lasting impression.
Smart, who was an administrative assistant at Georgia at the time, diagrammed a defense for his friend and potential boss.
“He put 12 guys up on the board,” Muschamp said, laughing. “I thought we were going to be pretty good on defense if he could figure out how to get 12 guys on the field.”
Smart remembers Valdosta for other reasons.
“When I got through playing, I didn’t have a job and I was kind of working as a GA, a part-time guy at Georgia, and he called me down at Valdosta State and said he wanted to interview me for the secondary job,” Smart said. “Of course, I jumped all over it and went down there and they hired me for $10,000 a year. I was actually making more as a GA at Georgia than I was at Valdosta State working for Will and Chris Hatcher. But they were both real good to me.”
The Valdosta assignment lasted only a year for Muschamp. Nick Saban hired him to coach linebackers at LSU.
Muschamp and Smart were separated for three years before Muschamp hired Smart again. Muschamp, then LSU’s defensive coordinator brought Smart, a graduate assistant at Florida State at the time, to Baton Rouge to coach defensive backs.
As tangled as their careers are, it is obvious listening to them talk they hold each other in high regard.
“He sees the big picture,” Muschamp said. “That is the reason he has been successful as a coach.
While Smart is the Alabama coordinator, Saban is heavily involved in the defensive coaching. Smart recently won the Broyles Award, which goes to the top assistant coach in the country.
And he welcomes Saban’s input.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s like having an extra coach,” Smart said. “So if you can get an extra coach to help your side of the ball, why wouldn’t you use it? That’s kind of the way I’ve always felt about it.”
Muschamp also is closely linked to Saban.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for the opportunities that Nick gave me, hiring me from Valdosta State, a Division II school, at LSU and within a year promoted me to defensive coordinator,” Muschamp said. “There are not a lot of coaches that would do that. I consider him a friend and a mentor and a guy that’s just done a phenomenal job at Alabama and LSU and Michigan State.”
Despite the fact that they have not coached together since 2004, Smart and Muschamp regularly communicate.
This season, they talked every week, usually on Thursday or Friday when the game plans were in and time was more manageable.
They talked football.
“Late in the year, we realized there was a pretty good shot that we would be playing each other,” Muschamp said. “We didn’t share as much information after that.”
“We started to back off a little,” Smart said.
But they did not totally cut off communication.
They have exchanged text messages since they have been in Southern California. Their wives and kids were together Saturday at Disneyland.
After the game Thursday, they will pick up where they left off. That’s what good friends do. There is no irony in that.
But the big question is will Georgia call Smart?