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Kirby Smart feeling more comfortable back at his alma mater

ATHENS, Ga. -- Kirby Smart's intense promotion of Georgia's spring game could put him out of a home.

You see, Smart and his family are currently living out of a four-bedroom apartment owned by family friends. The problem is that Smart's G-Day buildup now has this temporary residence booked for someone else that weekend, meaning the house hunting process has accelerated.

"We're close," a smiling Smart said of finding a house.

Finding a home isn't without its stresses, but Smart will take these anxious moments over the taxing time he had juggling being Georgia's new head coach and Alabama's defensive coordinator during the College Football Playoff. Smart said times got "tough" and were even "horrible," as game planning, recruiting and maintenance at two schools mixed.

Smart was all Bama for X's and O's and all Georgia in recruiting. What made things even tougher was the fact that the same prospects Smart called might talk to the Alabama assistant sitting right next to him in meetings moments later. Paranoia on both sides sunk in, as Smart and his peers watched each other slide behind closed doors to recruit in between dissecting Michigan State and later Clemson.

He had to be loyal to his current staff, while at the same time loyal to recruits and parents he'd already spent time with for a different program.

Smart even spent his 40th birthday (Dec. 23) traveling to Athens after practice in Tuscaloosa to interview assistant coaches before heading back home for Christmas and then out to Dallas for Alabama's semifinal game against Michigan State.

It wasn't until after Alabama's 45-40 win against Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship that Smart's stress eased.

"That part was not fun," Smart said of his jumbled schedule after accepting the Georgia job. "But since that game and the fact we won it at least justified what I did.

"It is what it is, but it's over now, thank goodness."

Now, it's all about making Georgia better.

The ex-Bulldogs defensive back from the mid-90s is in charge of his very first program and is relishing the breaths he's actually allowed to take now. All of a sudden, poor skeleton drills don't seem so bad.

Through only a few practices and offseason workouts, Smart isn't sure what kind of team he has, but he likes the work ethic, energy and the fact that most guys have bought into the coaches' new philosophies and they're tolerating this staff's idea of making them comfortable being uncomfortable.

"That's what change is. Change is uncomfortable," Smart said. "We're forcing change, which is forcing growth."

Smart isn't sure if immediate success is in store for him. This is all new and there are glaring errors 15 practices just won't fix. Depth is a concern on the defensive line and Smart said picking up both offensive and defensive systems are still somewhat of a struggle for players. This team isn't as big or as physical as he wants, he'd like more speed at receiver and he doesn't know who his quarterback will be.

Fortunately, Smart is learning that flexibility is his friend. He isn't stressed about the defense's approach or how it will look because former Alabama coach Mel Tucker is overseeing it. Sure, during times of frustration, Smart wants to wrap his hands around the unit, but he isn't concerned about how Tucker runs it because their messages and philosophies are so similar, allowing him to step back.

Smart might not have a quarterback right now, but he's also not set on a certain offensive approach. Jim Chaney's offense will be predicated on the quarterback, but Smart doesn't want to see a square peg, round hole situation.

"I'm tied to whatever our offense can do, whatever the quarterback can do," Smart said. "I'm a big believer in your offensive limitations come from your quarterback. The more he can do, the more you can do. ...You better have one of those."

Certainly, there are off-field burdens that weigh on a new coach. Speaking engagements and handshakes with politicians now garner more attention. And for a coach back at his alma mater, there's the pressure to balance past friendships with running your own team because, as Smart puts it, "everyone wants a piece of you."

Smart is learning all this on the fly, but he's keeping his anxiety down. His social life might be minimal, but he's investing his energy in his team and a program he wasn't sure he'd ever return to in this capacity.

"It's hard to say that it gets any better to be at your alma mater and run a major college football program," Smart said. "That's what I'm fired up about. I'm just trying to do this the right way."