Michigan and Georgia: A lot more similar than they are different

NCAA Football

Coaches Jim Harbaugh and Kirby Smart with Orange Bowl Dec. 30, 2021

MIAMI (WOOD) — Jim Harbaugh smiled as he talked about what he got from his kids as a birthday gift: little GPS trackers for things like his phone or wallet.

They were a birthday gift, not for Christmas. Harbaugh was born just two days before Christmas, and he says sometimes people can try to combine the two celebrations with one gift.

“You get the short end of the stick so many times because people are running out of money,” Harbaugh said. “You don’t really have a party because everybody is getting ready for Christmas, and a lot of the times you get the same birthday present as you do — Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday.”

Georgia Football Coach Kirby Smart knows exactly what Harbaugh is talking about. The two were born on the same day, 12 years apart.

“The old doubled up was definitely the case. It’s much easier to give one than two,” Smart replied. “‘Hey, I’m just going to let this be your Christmas and your birthday gift.’ I certainly think I got a lot of that.”

It is one of a number of similarities the two head coaches share. As they get ready to play each other for a chance at a national championship appearance, they are both coaching for the universities they played for and graduated from.

“There’s no downside,” Harbaugh said about coaching at his alma mater. “Just really honored to be the coach here. It’s always been a big team effort. That’s the thing that I learned as a player here, and it started with Bo Schembechler. It’s all about the team. The team, the team, the team. We try to continue that idea, that legacy.”

For Smart, this is his first head coaching job since taking over the Bulldogs program in 2016. Since coming back to Athens, he says he’s found encouragement and support. He also says everyone wants a piece of his time.

“I think the biggest difference is you feel an emotional tie. You feel a gratitude. You’re able to sell that in recruiting,” Smart said. “But the hardest part is just the time commitment to so many that have an expectation of it.”

While both programs offer rich traditions and iconic looks, the teams this year play a certain brand of football that both coaches are known around the league for.

Both play power football, anchored by strong defenses, pushed by relentless rushing attacks and won at the line of scrimmage. Georgia’s defensive line is considered one of the top in the country. Michigan’s offensive line was selected as this year’s Joe Moore Award recipient, given to the top offensive line in college football.

“A lot of similarities. Both football coaches, doing what we love. I can tell listening to coach talk about (how) his team feels — that’s the way I feel. You’re in it for these relationships and these long and trusting friendships and trying to get good at football,” Harbaugh said. There’s probably a lot more similarities than differences.”

One similarity will come to an end Friday when the two share the field in the Orange Bowl: The two teams have only met twice since the 1960s, with each winning one of those games. A win will put one team ahead of the other, and will put one coach closer to winning their first national championship.

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