Author: Kent Hannon

Published

Their lives are still in whirlwind mode. But Terry finance grads Kirby Smart (BBA ’98) and Mary Beth Lycett Smart (BBA ’03) have returned to their alma mater in new roles as head coach and ‘First Lady’ of the Georgia football program. If 93K Day is any indication, they’re going to be game-changers.

Did you attend those lazy, hazy, crazy G-Day games of yesteryear? Let’s test your memory.

Sanford Stadium ... half-full, if that? Check. Guest coaches from the media ... do you remember humorist Lewis Grizzard calling plays and saluting the cheerleaders in his press conference? Wow, that was fun! 

Then there was that curious format change to varsity vs. alumni contests wherein game-ready sons sometimes lined up against their overweight, out-of-shape fathers. 

Yeah, believe it or not, those happened, too.     

And it wasn’t just the stadium that was half-full on G-Day. The overall atmosphere on campus was more springtime picnic than serious SEC football tailgate. 

A firm believer in the adage, “You play like you practice,” a young man with a familiar name and face hatched a new plan for this spring’s game — one that involved a much more rigorous off-season training regimen for Bulldog fans as well as players. Inspired by 80,000-attendance spring games he’d been part of as an assistant coach at perennial national champion Alabama, the new guy in town challenged the Bulldog Nation to turn this year’s G-Day game into ... 93K Day. 

Kirby Smart
When Kirby challenged a Georgia basketball crowd to help make 93K Day a reality, athletic director Greg McGarity said he got goose bumps.

As dares go, asking for a sellout crowd at Sanford in mid-April was a biggie, considering that the best G-Day crowd in history was 46K and change.

But this guy dreams big. He preached the 93K gospel whenever someone put a tape recorder in front of him. He went on the radio and told Bulldog faithful in no uncertain terms, “It’s up to you to get your butt off the couch and make it happen!” 

When he grabbed the microphone at halftime of the Georgia-Arkansas basketball game in January, the Coliseum crowd, which included his new boss, stood in unison ... and then went a little nuts when he delivered his 93K challenge.

“I got goose bumps!” UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity admitted.

Okay, new question. 

Did you attend The Game Now Known As 93K Day?

The one that set a new record for attendance at an SEC spring football game?

The one that ranks as the largest crowd in Sanford Stadium history?

The one where fire regulations forced the stadium staff to close the turnstiles with people still trying to get in?

If you weren’t there ... well, as 93K guy would say later: “It was so incredible, I wish we could get two wins out of it!”

Get the picture, as Munson would say.

At 3:15, 45 minutes before kickoff, the lower stands were indeed packed, but the upper deck at Sanford was still largely empty. But at 3:45, when pre-game entertainer Ludacris aimed his uber-amplified voice up there, even the 600 level of the stadium was jammed. 

The familiar face who made all this happen is Kirby Smart (BBA ’98).

Perhaps you’ve heard of him. 

At Terry, he’s remembered for making A’s in his finance classes and for leading the college’s co-ed softball team to a championship in the 2005 all-campus tournament. 

He has the intramural sports scars to prove it, too, as we’ll learn in a minute. 

Kirby was also a pretty fair college football player.

Schooled in the finer points of the game by his father, Sonny Smart, who coached him at Bainbridge (Ga.) High School, Kirby embodied his last name by always being in the right place at the right time. A latter-day Terry Hoage with more intuition than speed, he made the All-SEC first team as a senior defensive back, and his 13 career interceptions — still fourth on Georgia’s all-time list — are evidence of just how smart he was between the lines. Off the field, he made the All-SEC Academic team all four years in school, and traces of his B-School education still creep into his conversation. In the days leading up to the spring game, he characterized it as “an important sales day for us because of all the recruits in attendance.” 

Kirby Smart
When Kirby signed his letter-of-intent at Bainbridge (Ga.) High School in 1995, he drew a crowd. He had 13 career interceptions at Georgia, he was named first team All-SEC as a senior, and he was an All-SEC Academic Team selection all four years in school.

Named the top assistant coach in the country at Alabama in both 2009 and 2012, Kirby was awarded a $200,000 raise in 2013 that made him the highest-paid defensive coordinator in college football. And from Dec. 6, 2015, when he was named head coach at Georgia, until Jan. 11, when his tour of duty at Alabama concluded with a fourth National Championship in seven years, Kirby Smart was considered by many to be the Busiest Man in America Not President of the United States (BMIANPOTUS).

Doing justice to two 18-hour-a-day jobs at once isn’t humanly possible, but Kirby went at it full blast. The Fiesta Bowl victory over Clemson earned him his fourth National Championship ring as a member of Nick Saban’s staff. As exit interviews go, that was off the charts. But with just three weeks to go until National Signing Day, how would Kirby’s first recruiting class at Georgia be remembered? 

Indelibly, as it turned out. 

Some analysts have labeled it the strongest recruiting class ever assembled by a first-year coach, with a wealth of four and five-star talent, including the nation’s top-rated high school quarterback, Jacob Eason, who also had something to do with the spring game turnout.

One month before his 93K challenge came to fruition, Kirby and a former teammate of his on the Terry College softball team agreed to a private interview with Terry Magazine. 

Her name is Mary Beth Smart (BBA ’03). 

Perhaps you’ve heard of her, too. 

Mary Beth
Mary Beth was named Miss Georgia Basketball as a senior in high school and made a name for herself at Georgia as a three-point shooter. After graduation, she taught algebra, then utilized her Terry College education in the UGA Athletic Association business office. specializing in travel and budget.

In college, when she was known as Mary Beth Lycett, she was a mainstay of the Lady Dogs basketball team. Her prep honors included being named Miss Georgia Basketball at Morrow High School in suburban Atlanta. But these days the media has begun referring to Mary Beth Smart as “The First Lady of Georgia Football.”

They arrived for the TM interview as a couple, which in itself was an anomaly because Kirby and Mary Beth seldom see each other during a typical workday. His job is to bring Alabama-type success to the Georgia football program. Her job is to ride herd on the couple’s three young children — twins Julia and Weston, 8, and their little brother Andrew, 4 — and manage the Athens condo the Smarts are currently living in, courtesy of Terry alum Brother Stewart (BBA ’74). 

The goal, says Mary Beth, who is a close friend of Stewart’s daughter Carolyn, is to buy or build something that is substantial enough for a family of five and also relatively close to Kirby’s office — so that, when a rare 30-minute opening in his schedule arises, he can run home to see his wife and kids. 

“We would love to live in the Five Points area,” says Mary Beth. “But we’ve had a hard time finding a property that offers the kind of privacy and space that we need — and is also close to Kirby’s office.”

At the outset of the TM interview, with Kirby’s first spring practice at Georgia just 24 hours away, he had a legal pad in his hand and a distracted look on his face. 

“I have a staff meeting in 20 minutes, so this needs to be quick,” he said, having already informed Mary Beth not to expect him home for dinner more than a couple nights during the first week of spring practice. 

But as soon as the interview began, the man who has figured out a way to thrive in divided-attention situations quickly shifted into undivided-attention mode.  

TM: Finance is not a typical major for a football player — or a basketball player, for that matter. Why were you attracted to it, Kirby?

KIRBY: I was a very good math student ... and my goal was to avoid being a coach, if at all possible. 

TM: Well, you’ve failed miserably at that!

KIRBY: I thought that if I had a business degree, I would never coach. I was originally an accounting major (“So was I,” said Mary Beth.), but I switched to finance. (“So did I,” said Mary Beth.)

TM: How difficult was it to manage your time — handling homework and tests — while giving so much of yourself to your college football career? You were a team captain in ’98 and the Dogs won 19 games your last two years in school. That must have kept you busy.

KIRBY: It was difficult. During the football season, you have a game every weekend, so I didn’t have a lot of extra study time, which was a challenge. But the Terry College does a great job of preparing its students to succeed. 

TM: You two have been away since 2005, and you’ve been wrapped up in a college football environment at Alabama that’s like no other in terms of success. In the course of those four National Championship seasons, did you still feel like Terry College alumni?

KIRBY: Oh, yeah, we did! Y’all do a great job with Terry Magazine. We get it, we read it, it keeps us informed ... and the college has such a great reputation. The first building in Terry’s new Business Learning Community looks awesome!

TM: What do you remember about Terry?

KIRBY: I remember MIS 312 and an economics class I took. I remember finance professors Annette Poulsen and Jeff Netter — not just from class, but from the Terry College softball team, which they sort of sponsored. I guess Jeff was considered the manager. I remember the Terry College softball team vividly ... and I still have a scar to prove it! (Kirby rolls up his right pant leg to display the evidence.)

MARY BETH: He’s an overachiever! He hurt his leg sliding into third base!

KIRBY: I contracted a staph infection as a result of that slide, and it got so bad that I had to excuse myself from a coaches meeting when I was the running backs coach on Mark Richt’s staff in 2005. I said, “Mark, I gotta go home because I got an infection in my leg from playing softball!” It happened because I was wearing shorts when I slid into third base. I’ve had worse injuries as a player, but that staph infection is the only time I missed work in all my years as a coach!

TM: What B-school best practices have meant the most to you in your coaching career?

KIRBY: Time management would be number one, but there are others. I began using my Terry College background at my first assistant coaching job at Valdosta State. Not every player was on a full scholarship; some might have been on a half, some just a quarter. So I created an Excel spreadsheet. I called it The Salary Cap, and it helped the head coach figure out the best way to spend athletic scholarship money. 

Smart with Chuck Dowdle and D.J. Shockley
When his commitment to Alabama ended on Jan. 11, Kirby (shown here with Chuck Dowdle and D.J. Shockley) had just 23 days of uninterrupted time to recruit as a new head coach — but still delivered a top 10 class.

TM: Was working as an assistant coach under Nick Saban reminiscent of your B-school training?

KIRBY: It was similar to a business school format, though not goal oriented but process oriented. Coach Saban wants you to do things the right way, just like you’d counsel a financial investor ... his philosophy is not to put short-term gains ahead of long-term goals.

TM: What were those five weeks like between the Dec. 6 press conference when you were announced as the new head coach at Georgia, and Jan. 11, when you were still a member of Saban’s coaching staff, helping him win another National Championship at Alabama?

KIRBY: A whirlwind. The toughest part was obviously doing the two jobs at once. First, the National Championship game and then National Signing Day at Georgia ... it was a bit much.

TM: Your Day-Timer must have been a mess.

KIRBY: What’s a Day-Timer? (Mary Beth tells him.) Oh ... I keep track of everything on my phone.

TM: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

KIRBY: A successful businessman ... something to do with numbers.

TM: Well, essentially, you’ve accomplished that. But the only thing you’ve done since graduating from Georgia is coach football, which you say you wanted to avoid at all costs.

KIRBY: All I can say is that I enjoy what I do ... I don’t feel like I’ve worked a day in my life. When I got done playing, I had a choice to make. There were some attractive business opportunities in Atlanta, but I turned them down to coach football at Valdosta State. I was making a lot less money, but I fell in love with coaching down there.

TM: Speaking of falling in love, how and when did you meet Mary Beth?

KIRBY: I finished playing here in 1998. I graduated, and went to the Indianapolis Colts for a brief stay, then came back here for the 1999 season as an administrative assistant. I was working here when Mary Beth was playing basketball as a freshman, but we never knew each other. I left at the end of the ’99 season and went to Valdosta State. When I came back to Georgia as an assistant coach in January 2005, Mary Beth was working in the Athletic Association business office. In fact, she booked my flight to Athens from LSU, where I had been an assistant under Coach Saban. She worked on the fourth floor of the Butts-Mehre building and I worked on the second floor. She was in charge of booking all the flights I made as an assistant coach ... and she came down to my floor a lot more than I went up to hers, let’s put it that way! (Mary Beth laughs because she remembers the upstairs-downstairs aspect of their early courtship a little differently.) 

MARY BETH: The only shower in the building is on the second floor. A couple girlfriends of mine and I would run at lunch and then use that second-floor shower.

KIRBY: When you get off the elevator on that floor, you have a choice of which way to go. Mary Beth’s choice was always to use the side where my office was!

TM: What’s the last thing Nick Saban said to you before you left? Was it a big speech?

KIRBY: After the National Championship game, he came over and congratulated me, said good job ... great win. That was pretty much it. He’s a man of few words. 

TM: How much of Nick Saban’s management style rubbed off on you during your time together?

KIRBY: A lot of the football values certainly did — heavily, in fact, in terms of what I believe in on the field. But our personality traits are different as far as recruiting and relationships with players.

TM: You were an assistant coach at five different college programs —Valdosta State, Florida State, LSU, Georgia, and Alabama. How does it feel to be back where your football career essentially started?

KIRBY: It feels great to be home!

TM: What’s next for you after this interview ends?

KIRBY: Gotta get ready for my staff meeting ... and we’re always recruiting! The only reason I did this interview was because it was for Terry!

 

To understand how well suited Mary Beth Smart is for her new role as “The First Lady of Georgia Football,” you have to have some appreciation for the depth of her love for UGA. Mary Beth was voted Player of the Year in her classification as both a junior and a senior at Morrow High. A sharpshooting guard, who could take over a game with her three-point accuracy, her first trip to campus came on Nov. 15, 1997, when she was just a sophomore. Her college coach Andy Landers picks up the story from there.

“When we started recruiting Mary Beth — who is just a wonderful person with a great family — we took her and her father to a football game against Auburn. It was the coldest game I’ve ever attended in Athens, and as we were sitting there freezing, I said to myself, ‘Well, this can’t last.’ But every time I looked over at Mary Beth, she was loving it! She wanted to stay till the bitter end. We brought blankets, but I still froze my rear end off. Georgia lost 45-34, but Mary Beth acted like she’d died and gone to heaven!”

She couldn’t have known it back then, but as she admired the defensive prowess of No. 16 in the red-and-black — who outshone even future NFL star Champ Bailey on the ’97 Georgia team — Mary Beth Lycett was getting her first look at her future husband Kirby Smart.

The other story Landers likes to tell about Mary Beth’s love for UGA — and, more specifically, for Georgia football — stems from the extent of her pre-game fashion preparation.

“On football Saturdays, we would typically schedule a basketball practice at, say, 8 a.m. that morning,” says Landers. “Well, to get ready to practice at eight o’clock, some players had to get taped as early as 6:30. As you can imagine, by the time practice ended four hours later, most of the players on the team wanted to head back to their dorm or apartment to eat and take a nap. But not Mary Beth. When she arrived for practice, she already had her game day wardrobe on a hanger. When practice ended, she was headed to the stadium!”

Looking back on her life and playing career, Mary Beth says, “I feel like I was bred to be a coach’s wife!” 

A huge chunk of that sentiment has to do with attributes like poise, patience, perseverance, and a positive mental attitude. In Mary Beth’s case, all of those facets of her personality came into play during her first two years at Georgia, where her path to the starting lineup was blocked by four players — Kelly Miller, Coco Miller, Deanna Nolan, and Kiesha Brown — who would ultimately play professionally in the WNBA.

As a starter her junior and senior years, Mary Beth led the team in both free throw accuracy and three-point shooting, and there were nights when her ability to score from long range spelled the difference between victory and defeat. She had 20-point nights against Vanderbilt and Florida, pulled down 13 rebounds against UCLA, and played 47 minutes in a double-overtime win over South Carolina where her emotional locker room speech meant even more than the 19 points she scored.

Ranked No. 14 in the country but getting clobbered 42-25 at halftime in Athens, Mary Beth spared Andy Landers’ voice with a tongue-lashing of her own.

“Mary Beth told everyone we were playing like crap, and we needed to pick it up,” said teammate Sherill Baker. “We listened to her, and we got the job done.”

Georgia won the game 97-91, and Landers gave Mary Beth the lion’s share of credit for the team scoring 72 points in the second half and OT:

“I’m glad she said it because somebody needed to!”

In this day and age, when Steph Curry’s long-range gunning was basically the story of the last two NBA seasons, Mary Beth’s ability to make three-point shots is still a topic of conversation on the UGA campus — even when she’s being interviewed in her new role as the wife of the Georgia football coach.

TM: Are you aware that you’re still Vince Dooley’s favorite three-point shooter?

MARY BETH: I couldn’t believe he said that ... I was so honored! It made my dad’s day, I can tell you that!

TM: And yet here you are, all these years later, being called “The First Lady of Georgia Football” with a husband who has challenged the Bulldog Nation to create a new version of G-Day called 93K Day. Has he said much about it to you?

MARY BETH: Well, yeah! He wants to make a splash! It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s what they do at Alabama ... at least it was when we first went there. It’s now down to like 80 percent capacity for the A-Day game. But they do have a different mindset at Alabama. Even for a non-conference opponent like a Charleston Southern, the stadium will be full two hours before the game. They literally live for football in Tuscaloosa.

TM: Andy Landers says he never coached a player who loved the University of Georgia more than you do.

MARY BETH: I am hesitant to use that “First Lady” term; I think that’s something you’ve got to earn. But I’ve been a Georgia fan all my life. My mother has a master’s degree in education from UGA, and I wanted to play basketball for Andy Landers from the first second I realized I might be good enough.

TM: Andy has a reputation for being rough on his players on the floor ... and killing them with kindness off it.

 MARY BETH: He was definitely hard on all of us — and extremely hard on me! But he knew how to reach us, and it paid off. Apparently I respond well to yelling! I think I developed into a leader.

TM: Why did you decide to major in finance?

MARY BETH: I had never heard Kirby say he majored in finance because he wanted to do anything but be a coach ... and I’m not sure I believe him because he’s such a good coach! For me, I toyed with being a math major, decided on accounting, and then changed to finance. Balancing school and athletics wasn’t that hard because we played on Thursdays and Sundays. And at a school like Georgia, you get to fly to away games and not miss much class time.

TM: At one point during Kirby’s various coaching jobs, you were, in fact, a math teacher.

MARY BETH: I taught algebra to ninth graders in Fort Lauderdale when Kirby was with the Miami Dolphins. And even though I don’t currently work outside the home, running our home and family feels a lot like a business. No college could have prepared me better for what I do now — buying and selling real estate, taking out life insurance — than Terry. Marketing is important, too ... I mean I kind of look at Kirby as a brand. And I think his management classes were really important to him. I see that when Kirby is managing people. It was important when he was a coordinator at Alabama. I mean, we do have professional financial people who handle investments for us, but because of Terry, I can at least understand their phone calls!

TM: Kirby was only here for a year as a Georgia assistant coach in 2005, but it must have been fun reuniting with people you knew from college on the Terry softball team.

MARY BETH: Oh, it was! Chris Pope taught a couple finance classes that I took as an undergrad, and he recruited me to play on the softball team. Jeff Netter was the pitcher. I played second base, and I recruited Kirby. He’s an unbelievable athlete, the kind of shortstop who’s always diving for balls and making great plays.

TM: Kirby’s had his say. What’s your take on how you two became a couple? 

MARY BETH: They called me "The Travel Lady" in the Athletic Association business office. I handled all the recruiting travel arrangements, kept everything within budget ... and I remember Kirby calling me constantly. Not just for travel. He’d call and say, “Who do I set up my insurance with? Where do I get my dealer car?” It was just a friendship at first. We got engaged in March 2006, and we got married in July. The proposal was interesting. I was trying to sell his house, and I was holding an open house there. He called and asked me to check his mailbox for him. He’d left a ring in the mailbox, and he stayed on the phone till I found it! I didn’t think he was even in town, but he was actually hiding on the side of the house! It was cool ... and totally unexpected!

TM: I read that you got some valuable tips from Nick Saban’s wife, Terry, on how to be a head coach’s wife.

MARY BETH: It was more a case of me paying attention to things she did — spending time with donors and boosters, which, in some ways, is a form of sales. I also paid attention to her relationships with the coaches’ wives and how she managed different personalities ... she’s very diplomatic.

TM: You’ve become a very successful amateur tennis player in recent years. Is being an athlete an advantage that you have over most coaches’ wives?

MARY BETH: Playing for Coach Landers and then working in the Athletic Association business office for two years, I understand the mentality and the day-to-day work ethic that so many people put into running a successful football program. I’m glad I enjoyed going to games as a student because it’s not as much fun now. It’s a business ... and it’s stressful. It’s our livelihood. And now, more than before, Kirby has a lot of people depending on him for their jobs.

TM: What did your Day-Timer look like today?

MARY BETH: It’s a lot fuller than it used to be — and it has color-coded pages. That’s how I took notes at Terry. That’s how I remember things. 

TM: How are things at the condo? Is it any quieter there than out here in public?

MARY BETH: No, it’s loud there too because we have three young children! But the thing I’m very proud of is that our kids don’t realize what a big deal this is. They’re very grounded. They treat their dad like any dad with a regular job gets treated. Because of the job he has, he misses things — but when he’s home, he’s really present. If he’s around on a Saturday morning, I’m going to go running. He used to take the kids to get Krispy Kreme donuts. His schedule is so irregular now, but he thinks about — and plans — literally everything. If he needs to make an hour’s worth of recruiting calls in the evening, he asks me when the best time would be to do that.

TM: Was this Kirby’s dream job?

MARY BETH: Oh, absolutely. He wanted to be a head coach, and there aren’t that many dream jobs out there. We loved Tuscaloosa, we made lifelong friends there, and all three of our children were born there. The University of Alabama made it hard for us to leave. They paid him so well, and we had a great house. The truth is, we could be pretty normal in Tuscaloosa. But Kirby was waiting on a job that was worth taking . . . somewhere he could win. This is it! And it’s so great to be home!

 

In the afterglow of 93K Day, Kirby hit the speaking circuit, drawing the kind of adoring crowds normally associated with someone who is running for public office — which, in a way, he is. 

On the Tuesday after the spring game, he and Mary Beth were the guests of UGA President (and Kirby’s former Terry College professor) Jere Morehead on the university’s plane.

Destination: Dallas, Texas. 

Occasion: UGA in Dallas Day, a private fundraiser for an ever-widening enclave of Bulldog faithful who live in Big D — their numbers growing, in large part, because of former Highland Park resident Matthew Stafford (BBA ’03), who starred at Georgia and was the first pick in the 2009 NFL draft. 

“Perhaps the greatest thing that has happened at the University of Georgia in the past couple of months is bringing Kirby home,” Morehead told the Dallas crowd, as reported by Seth Emerson on dawgnation.com. “Ninety-three thousand is just the beginning of a tremendous new era.”

When it was Kirby’s turn to speak, he induced laughter from the audience by acknowledging that he’s not the tallest person in his household:

“Mary Beth did wear her heels tonight, so she’s got me by about three inches ... I hate it when she does that!” 

He also referenced the importance of his Terry College education — one course and one professor in particular.

“When I was in college, I never knew that when I was in Professor Morehead’s class that every night I studied was critical to my success in the future!”

But he was also serious at times, even with regard to 93K Day.

The danger, Kirby said, is that both you and your players can get caught up in the moment.

Smart family
The Smart’s children — who don’t know their dad is a big deal — include (from left) Weston, twin sister Julia, and little brother Andrew

“What I’m noticing, as I go through each kid, is enthusiasm — the reaction to what happened Saturday,” Kirby told the Dallas crowd. “It’s overwhelming to them because they didn’t realize the support they actually have. I think as coaches we have to do a tough job of selling [the message], ‘So what ... now what?’”

Before he and Mary Beth headed to the airport, Kirby reminded his audience that the 2016 season opener against North Carolina in the Georgia Dome looms large as a precursor of how good his first team at Georgia can be. 

As a parting shot, he left them with a line from Jerry Reed’s “Eastbound and Down,” which was the theme song from “Smokey and the Bandit”:

“We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there!” 

True enough, Kirby. The task is, after all, a formidable one. But given how far you’ve come — in such a short time — we’re betting you’ll get there.