Smith was Georgia's first 1,000-yard rusher since 1992 and was the team's workhorse back as the Bulldogs won their first Southeastern Conference championship since 1982 and finished 13-1 with a No. 3 national ranking.
Smith (6-2, 226) rushed for 1,324 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior this season, including 145 yards against Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. Including the Sugar Bowl, Smith had almost half of Georgia's rushing attempts - 260 of 536. With similarly impressive numbers as a senior, Smith would have improved his draft status and possibly been considered a solid first-round pick.
"We talked to him a little bit about going pro or staying, but you can't tell a kid what to do,'' Bobo said. "The main thing I said was he had to get the best information possible.'' Added Bobo: "The worst thing that could happen would be if he came back and things didn't go well and he wasn't projected as high and he blamed the University of Georgia.''
Bobo served as running backs coach the second half of the 2002 season after Tony Pierce resigned on Oct. 7. Bobo is returning to his original job as quarterbacks coach, and Ken Rucker has been hired as the new running backs coach.
Smith was advised by the NFL underclassman advisory council that he currently is projected as a second-round draft pick.
"I said if you can live with that, realize it could go up or it could go down (before the April draft)," Bobo said.
Smith, an Associated Press first-team All-SEC pick, said before the Sugar Bowl that he would consider his draft options but planned to return. Smith may have been swayed by the severe knee injury suffered by Miami running back Willis McGahee in the Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl.
Before the injury, McGahee planned to enter the draft but now must face the possibility of missing the 2003 season while going through rehabilitation and then having to again prove his NFL worth to NFL scouts.
Smith battled a groin injury through his 2001 season and missed two games with a knee injury as a freshman in 2000. This was the first season Smith had an opportunity to prove his durability, and he may not have wanted to risk more injury problems if he came back for his senior season.
Last week, Smith said the prospect of running behind five new starting linemen "definitely plays a role (in the decision). We're going to be real young up front next year.''
Smith called Coach Mark Richt in New Orleans, where Richt was attending the American Football Coaches Association convention.
"I think (Smith) certainly could have improved his draft status (with a strong senior season),'' Richt told Sportsline.com in New Orleans. "There's no question in my mind about that.'' Added Richt: "No one's really ready for that real world, but he's got a good, level head on his shoulders.''
Earlier this week, Georgia junior defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan said he will enter the draft.
Richt must replace eight starters on offense - five linemen, receiver Terrence Edwards, fullback J.T. Wall and Smith. With Smith's departure, finding a new starting tailback will be a top priority for spring practice, which will begin in about two months.
One of Georgia's most highly regarded verbal commitments is running back Kregg Lumpkin of Stephenson High. Lumpkin (6-1, 203) is ranked by TheInsiders.com as the No. 2 running back prospect in the nation.
Tony Milton, who started one game as a redshirt freshman and finished second on the team with 314 yards rushing on 82 carries, will enter spring as the starter at running back. The exit of Smith also will open an opportunity for freshman Michael Cooper, a top signee last year who was redshirted after a disappointing showing in practice early in the fall. Cooper opened some eyes in bowl practice.
"Coming out of bowl practice, to me (Cooper) was probably the most surprising young man,'' said defensive line coach Rodney Garner this week. "He was a lot quicker. Maybe a light has come on with him. Maybe he realized his redshirt year is almost over.''
Addd Bobo: "Toward the end of the year, Cooper started to come on and feel more comfortable in the system.''