It was never a surprise that Kirby Smart became the Georgia head coach in December 2015. He played for the Bulldogs from 1995-98, began his coaching career with them as an administrative assistant in 1999, then served as their running backs coach in 2005.

Now, Smart has built his alma mater into a top-tier program that is currently ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings late into the 2021 season. It’s been impressive growth to watch.

However, it’s also something that almost never happened. And that’s because Smart nearly took another job shortly before Georgia had an opening, according to Smart’s wife, Mary Beth, who discussed how things unfolded during a recent appearance on 960 The Ref.

“We were really close to taking South Carolina at the time,” Mary Beth Smart said (h/t The Spun’s Matt Audilet). “… The AD [Ray Tanner] and one of the athletic administration guys were in the kitchen meeting with us that morning Coach [Mark] Richt was fired. It was leading down that road. The way the timing fell for him was really special.”

Richt was fired by Georgia on Nov. 29, 2016, then Smart was hired the following week. Meanwhile, South Carolina pivoted and hired Will Muschamp to fill its opening.

How different would things look in the current landscape of the SEC if Smart had decided to join the Gamecocks? It’s interesting to think about, as it would also impact the other dominoes that have since fallen. And it’s possible the Bulldogs may not have national championship aspirations at the moment.