Alabama, Kirby Smart prep for Michigan State, College Football Playoff
TUSCALOOSA -- After a wild seven days during which Alabama lost one longtime defensive coordinator only to replace him with an equally familiar one, the second-ranked Crimson Tide went back to work Tuesday.
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With the recruiting "dead period" in effect, Alabama's coaches returned to town to begin preparations ahead of the start of bowl practices today. And those coaches included new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who will continue to fulfill his defensive coordinator duties through the Tide's involvement in the College Football Playoff.
For Smart, the next month will be a balancing act.
"The aspect of going back to Alabama and coaching, I think once I get back in that venue and back over there getting ready for the game, you've got to be able to wear two hats," Smart said on TV Monday. "You've got to be the defensive coordinator at Alabama, but there's got to be time set aside each day that I commit to recruiting and staff (building) over (at Georgia)."
In a unique set of circumstances, both outgoing defensive coordinator (Smart) and newly hired defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will be working together over the next several weeks leading up to the Dec. 31 Cotton Bowl showdown with Michigan State.
They'll even be sharing the same office.
"He and I are both high school coaches' sons, so we'll probably be sharing an office," Smart joked with Georgia beat reporters during a teleconference Monday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "But we're used to growing up in small places and being around each other. I don't have any issue with that. I have a great relationship with Jeremy, and Jeremy's trying to help Alabama win a football game. I understand that, so Jeremy and I have no issues."
Pruitt, who previously worked with the Tide from 2007-12, was announced as Smart's replacement Friday after learning he wouldn't be retained at Georgia.
"This is a special opportunity for me to come back to the University of Alabama," Pruitt said in a statement. "We are excited to get back to Tuscaloosa and be a part of one of the outstanding programs in college athletics."
Still, having both coaches on staff could create complications.
But Alabama head coach Nick Saban isn't worried about the professionalism of two coaches he's helped mentor during his nine years with the Tide.
"I know the professional integrity that Kirby has and the commitment that he has to our players as well as his new job, and I feel very comfortable that he'll be able to manage that," Saban said last week. "And I think the University of Georgia has been first class in how they've sort of handled this transition and helping us both be able to do this the way we're going to do it."
Georgia officials allowed their new head coach to stay with Alabama during the playoffs, in part to get the Bulldogs' brand in the public eye, Smart said.
"It's an opportunity (that's usually) once-in-a-lifetime for a lot of people, and we've been fortunate to have several shots at it, but a lot of those kids on that team haven't," Smart said on Paul Finebaum's TV show. "(The UGA administration) felt that it'd be great publicity for the University of Georgia to have me there in that game and the playoff, and to honor my commitment to finish what I started there."
This won't be the first time Smart has had to split his time between his future and his present.
Smart said he was first approached by Georgia athletic director Greg McGarrity after the regular season finale against Auburn. The two spoke throughout the week leading up to the SEC championship game, and Smart then met with the Georgia brass after the Tide knocked off Florida 29-15. Smart was hired the day after the SEC championship game.
"It was really challenging, I'll be honest," Smart said, "because you're trying to give all your heart and focus to the University of Alabama players, and playing for a SEC championship is a once-in-a-lifetime thing as well, and with all that going on in the peripheral, it makes it tough to manage."
While in Tuscaloosa, Smart said most of his focus will be spent on helping Alabama prepare for Michigan State while it's the job of Georgia's other coaches to prepare the Bulldogs for their game against Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Jan. 2.