Josh Kendall

Former teammates, Muschamp and Smart now rivals

Ray Goff didn’t win as many games as he would have liked in the first half of the 1990s at the University of Georgia, but he did churn out a lot of football coaches.

There was quarterback Mike Bobo, now the coach at Colorado State.

There was wide receiver Brian Bohannon, now the coach at Kennesaw State.

There was defensive lineman Travis Jones, now the defensive line coach for the Seattle Seahawks.

And, of course, there were safeties Will Muschamp and Kirby Smart, who will face off as coaches Saturday when South Carolina and Georgia meet in Williams-Brice Stadium at 7:30 p.m.

Goff isn’t the common theme in this story, though, he insists. The reason all five of those players turned into successful coaches is because their fathers were high school football coaches, Goff said.

“I don’t take any credit for that at all,” Goff said. “Their fathers were the big influences in their lives. If a high school coach’s son was close to being a prospect, we always erred toward the high school coach’s son. They understood what hard work was about. They understood discipline, and they understood the game. When you have a coach’s kid, usually they were very cerebral.”

Muschamp played for the Bulldogs from 1991-94. Smart’s playing career ran from 1995-98, and both were on the 1994 team, which was Smart’s redshirt season.

“I think I’ve had so many hits since then that I don’t remember (playing together) all that well,” Smart joked this week. “I just remember that he was a senior and I was a redshirt freshman. He’s a very good friend of mine, good friend of our family’s. We’ve been good friends for a long time, and that’ll remain that way throughout.”

Muschamp’s, Smart’s and Bobo’s fathers all sat together during Georgia games during that 1994 season, Muschamp said. He suspects their shared childhood experiences are part of the reason they became friends.

“A lot of similar paths, so to speak,” Muschamp said.

The Muschamp-Smart matchup is the biggest talking point surrounding this game, but it’s old news for the coaches, who have met five times when one or both were assistants. Muschamp’s 1-4 in those matchups, with his lone win coming in 2007 when Auburn, where he was the defensive coordinator, beat Alabama, where Smart was in his first season as defensive backs coach.

“It’s South Carolina-Georgia,” Muschamp said. “It’s a great rivalry. It’s an important game all the time for both schools and certainly having both schools coming off back-to-back losses is a critical game for both squads. I have a lot of respect for Kirby. He’s a great friend. Regardless of what happens Saturday or 10 years from now, we will always be friends.”

Smart started his coaching career on the same team as Muschamp. After spending one year as an administrative assistant at Georgia, he applied for the defensive backs coaching job at Valdosta State in 2000. Muschamp already was there as the Blazers defensive coordinator.

“We needed another coach and we didn’t have a whole lot of money, so the pool wasn’t very big,” said Chris Hatcher, who was Valdosta State’s coach at the time and is now the coach at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. “Will and Kirby had had a prior relationship. It was a natural fit. He needed a job. We needed a DB coach. I think we paid him $8,000.”

That explains why Smart lived with Muschamp and Muschamp’s wife, Carol, during much of their tenure in Valdosta. There were no late night gab sessions about one day being head coaches on a stage like this, though.

“We were worried about stopping somebody,” Muschamp said. “We worked together on the defensive side of the ball. We were just trying to get off the field on third down.”

Muschamp went from Valdosta State to LSU, where he coached defensive backs for Nick Saban in 2001. Smart left Valdosta State after two seasons to be a graduate assistant at Florida State, and then was hired by Saban at LSU in 2004, by which time Muschamp was the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.

“They knew the right people. They made the right decisions,” Hatcher said. “They calculated their path correctly.”

Both old friends need a win on Saturday. This is the first time since 1997 that both teams have come into the game unranked, and the first time since 1992 that both lost their previous game.

Goff already has gone through a similar scenario once this season when Bobo’s Rams faced Colorado, who are coached by former Goff graduate assistant Mike MacIntyre.

“I’m not rooting for anybody,” said Goff, who probably will be in Williams-Brice Stadium for the game. “I love Georgia because that’s where I went to school, but I love Will Muschamp, too, and I love Kirby Smart. I want what’s right for both of them. I am proud of both them, and I’m proud of every guy that ever played for me. There are a bunch of them that go to work from 8 to 5. I am just as proud of them as I am the two that are SEC coaches.”

Game Info

Who: USC (2-3, 1-2 SEC) vs. Georgia (3-2, 1-2)

When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 107.5 FM

Line: Georgia by 7 1/2