Kirby Smart was known for leading some dominant defenses at Alabama.
So when he took the Georgia head coaching job, it was always assumed the defense would take on a similar identity to what he helped establish with the Crimson Tide for nine years.
Following Georgia’s game against Tennessee, Smart was asked about the job “your defense” did to record a 41-0 shutout over the Volunteers.
Smart took this as the opportunity to divert any praise toward defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
“It’s not my defense,” Smart said. “Coach Tucker does a tremendous job with that defense. They play hard for Coach Tucker.”
Tucker has guided Georgia’s defense to a No. 2 national ranking in scoring defense at 9.2 points per game.
Smart, who has very much been hands-on with the defense since taking over at Georgia, offered an anecdote about Tucker at halftime against Tennessee. While Smart’s background is on the defensive side of the ball, he wasn’t concerned at all about this side of the ball.
“During halftime I didn’t need to go over and see the defensive players,” Smart said. “They had it under control, they were doing the adjustments and doing a really nice job. Give credit where credit is due. The kids play hard. They bought into playing with toughness and practicing that way.”
Based on the results, Georgia’s players have bought in to Tucker’s style since his arrival.
“Energetic,” outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said, when asked to describe Tucker. “Coach Tucker, he has a lot of energy built up down in there. He’ll bring it out sometimes. He coaches us up. He makes sure we know what we’re doing. He takes a lot of responsibility for the defense.”
By allowing only 244 yards per game, Georgia ranks third in the nation in total defense. Opposing teams are averaging only 90.4 yards.
Tucker has had a long career as an assistant, having previously coached in college at LSU, Ohio State and Alabama, to go with NFL stops with the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears. In 2011, Tucker also served as an interim head coach with the Jaguars following Jack Del Rio’s firing.
If Tucker’s defense continues to play the way it has through the rest of the season, the logical next step would be for a potential head coaching opportunity to emerge.
“Mel's a great leader. He commands great respect,” Smart said. “Players really follow Mel's lead. He does a tremendous job of game-planning, X-and-O-ing, calling the game. But more important than that, he's a very loyal soldier that helps guys out. If guys are struggling or their confidence is struggling, he's able to go to pep them up. They follow his lead.
“So yeah, he'd do a tremendous job. He's been an interim coach before, and I know he'd do a tremendous job given the opportunity.”