Has Kirby Smart passed Nick Saban as college football’s greatest coach? SEC chiefs battle for sport’s top spot

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Georgia coach Kirby Smart led Georgia to a 65-7 win over TCU on Monday night, and in the process, he became the first head coach to win back-to-back national titles since Nick Saban led Alabama to consecutive crowns in 2011-2012. Smart, who served on Saban’s staff at Alabama from 2007-15 and topped his mentor in dramatic fashion in last season’s national title game, is in the beginning stages of building a dynasty in Athens, Georgia. 

Now that Smart has matched his former boss in the consecutive titles department, that begs the question: Has Smart surpassed Saban as the best coach in college football right now? 

The answer is: no. He hasn’t yet, but the gap is rapidly closing. 

Not only does Smart have consecutive national titles, but his Bulldogs have finished in the top seven of the AP Top 25 in six consecutive seasons, he has led Georgia to division titles in five of the last six years and is 33-1 over his last 34 games. In other words, he’s dominating the college football world in the same way Saban did last decade. 

Consider this, though. Saban led Alabama to dynasty status after leading Toledo (1990), Michigan State (1995-99), LSU (2000-04) and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins (2005-06). Smart has led Georgia to this point after taking over Georgia in 2016 with the same Power Five head-coaching experience that I have … which is none. 

Smart went through some growing pains in his first year at his alma mater before, bam, he was one play away from winning a national title in Year 2.

Sustaining success is the most difficult task any coach in any sport faces, but Smart has done it in a short window. Saban, however, did it for more than a decade. In the process, he has cemented his legacy as the greatest coach of all time. Fifteen straight double-digit win seasons, seven national title between the stops at Alabama (6) and LSU (1) and 16 top-10 finishes is unheard of even if you’re playing a video game. That’s why he’s the greatest ever. 

Saban and Smart have had similar challenges because, for the most part, the landscape of the sport didn’t change all that much. But as Bob Dylan famously said: The times, they are a-changin’. Saban, 71, is close to retirement, won’t have to deal with NIL and the transfer portal all that much and the 12-team College Football Playoff will likely be in its infancy when Saban hangs up the headset. 

Smart, 47, is just getting started. If he can navigate the new, rougher waters and sustain the level of success that he has enjoyed over the last couple of years, we will be back here talking about Saban and Smart in the same breath. 

Saban still has the edge over his protege for now. That might not be the case this time next year, though, especially if Smart puts on the crown for the third straight year. 


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