UGA Football

Kirby Smart, Mark Fox bond further as Georgia coaches

Football coach Kirby Smart and basketball coach Mark Fox make their way to a barbecue at the Walnut Creek Shooting Preserve.
Football coach Kirby Smart and basketball coach Mark Fox make their way to a barbecue at the Walnut Creek Shooting Preserve.

Kirby Smart and Mark Fox were able to spend a great deal of time together during the past week.

The two Georgia coaches traveled to both Macon and Columbus to speak in front of alumni gatherings, flying on the team plane together to each event. The two had additional time on Thursday’s flight, as inclement weather delayed the plane’s takeoff.

Since Smart came to Georgia, Fox has offered to do whatever is needed to assist the new football head coach.

The two spent a few minutes complimenting each other in Columbus. And one particular compliment excited the Columbus crowd, based on the city’s proximity – only 45 minutes away – to one of Georgia’s rival schools.

“He’s used to beating Auburn,” Fox said, drawing a loud applause.

Smart spent the past nine years at Alabama, with the Crimson Tide winning six of those games against Auburn. It was a timely thing to say in front of a crowd eager to see how Smart performs in his first season.

Smart said that once he was able to join the Georgia staff full-time in January, after Alabama’s College Football Playoff national championship win over Clemson, that Fox immediately started offering his help.

He invited Smart and a handful of top in-state recruits to watch a basketball practice. For Smart, it showed Fox’s willingness to help the football coach in recruiting, given the two will need each other at times to woo players to their programs.

“To watch their guys practice, the intensity that they practice with, the great job and intensity their coaches have – they get after it,” Smart said. “It was fun to watch that and see that. And then you get to see that product on the (court).”

Fox noted that he has long admired football coaches, which all started when he was an assistant at Washington from 1991-93. During that time period, former Washington head coach Don James led the Huskies to a share of the national championship with Miami in 1991.

Fox also spent time getting to know legendary Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder while he was an assistant there from 1994-2000.

“I developed an affinity for football coaches and picking their brains,” Fox said.

Fox brought in three players in this year’s recruiting class, two of them four-stars in Tyree Crump and Jordan Harris, and the third being a junior college transfer in Pape Diatta, who received quite a bit of attention from other programs nationally.

Smart said he has seen Fox take a relentless approach in recruiting during his short time back in Athens, which has caught the idea of the football coach who has long had a history for excelling in this area.

“You know why he’s a good recruiter? Because he works at it. He constantly works at it,” Smart said. “His staff works at it. I’ve seen them interact with recruits. I’ve seen what they do. I know how he is with the cellphone. In this day and age, if you want to be a great recruiter, you’ve got to neglect something. And it’s hard. It’s hard doing the coaching job that he and his staff do. They do a phenomenal job.”

When former Georgia head coach Mark Richt was fired in late November, Fox was emotional about the topic. Fox and Richt became fast friends, with Richt opening his door to anything Fox needed.

Fox even visited Richt recently at Miami, which was in addition to seeing his buddy Keith Smart, an assistant coach with the Miami Heat who was recently released from the hospital after a bout with cancer.

But even though Fox had a close bond with Richt, he said “I will help, however I can.” He has done that with Kirby Smart so far, which has been very much appreciated from the new football head coach.

“He’s appropriately named. Coach Smart is a smart man,” Fox said. “He’s covering all the bases and checking all the boxes. … He’s brought great energy to our university and to our team. He’s going to do a phenomenal job.”