Kirby Smart’s father, former starting center at Samford, ‘really looking forward’ to matchup of Bulldogs

ATHENS, Ga. — In the summer before his senior year at Bainbridge High School, Kirby Smart attended a football camp at Samford University.

 

The head coach then was Chan Gailey, nine years before he held the same position at Georgia Tech.

“I went there out of high school on a recruiting visit on a camp,” Kirby Smart said. “It was one of my first offers. I went over there and worked out for them and did a camp. That was about the extent of it, though.”

Samford couldn’t land Smart even though both of his parents graduated from the school in Homewood, Ala., in suburban Birmingham. Sonny Smart even was a two-year starting center for the school where he played from 1968-70.

Kirby Smart landed a scholarship to Georgia where he became an All-SEC safety and now is in the second year as its head coach.

Georgia is 2-0 and ranked No. 13 in the nation as Samford, a FCS program, comes to town for a 7:30 p.m. game Saturday in a matchup of Bulldogs.

“We’re really looking forward to it because a lot of my teammates and friends are coming over,” Sonny Smart said. “There are about three couples that are actually staying with us and several others that are coming to the tailgate.”

Kirby Smart hugged his father, a retired high school coach, outside the postgame news conference Saturday night in Notre Dame Stadium following an important early-season 20-19 win.

Kirby Smart will have to try to get his team’s focus this week. After playing a top 25 name-brand program, Georgia gets a Southern Conference opponent this week.

Chris Hatcher, the Samford coach, gave Smart his first full-time coaching job as defensive backs coach at Valdosta State in 2000 and Smart was his defensive coordinator in 2001. Edgar Hatcher, Chris’ father, is friends with Sonny Smart from their days as high school coaches in Georgia.

Sonny Smart met his wife Sharon at Samford. He grew up in Columbia, Ala., near Dothan, a small town on the Chattahoochee River across the state line from Georgia.

He walked on at Samford in 1968 when the team went 6-4 and was a 210-pound center there when he started in 1969 and 1970 on teams that went 2-6-1 and 5-5.

“We had some good games and then lost some we shouldn’t have,” Smart said.

The team won the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl the next season, the NCAA Division II West Regional Championship, but did not field a football team from 1974 to 1983.

It returned as a NCAA Division III team before moving to the I-AA level in 1988. Terry Bowden was its coach from 1987-92 before coaching at Auburn.

Sonny and Sharon married a year after they graduated.

His degree was in physical education and he went on to coach high school football. Kirby’s mother earned her degree in English and took her first teaching job in Columbus, Ga.

Sonny Smart coached Kirby at Bainbridge and later coached at Rabun County.

“As the son of a high school coach and the best English teacher in the world, I’ve always aspired to be a head coach,” Smart said at his introductory news conference at Georgia.

The Georgia-Samford game was agreed to between the schools in 2014, a year before Smart was hired at Georgia, but it should make for an interesting week for the Smarts.

The parents of Samford linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Ross Newton are staying with Sonny Smart for the weekend at the house Kirby and Marty Beth Smart own on Lake Oconee. Bob Newton played tackle for Samford and is one of Sonny’s best friends.

“There are,” Sonny Smart said, “a lot of connections there.”

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