It’s past time for someone to make a Smart hire
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Nov 27, 2012 | 7340 views |  0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kirby Smart, left, on the field with Nick Saban (File photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
Kirby Smart, left, on the field with Nick Saban (File photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
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TUSCALOOSA — Kirby Smart probably doesn’t need a ringing endorsement from Nick Saban to get a head coaching job, but Smart got that endorsement this week

He got it in spades.

“It’s always good to have somebody with you on your staff that thinks like you and you can trust in,” Saban said about his defensive coordinator at Alabama. “…We speak the same language and have been on the same page for a long time.”

It’s a language a lot of programs would love to learn, and several, including Auburn, are turning a page.

Auburn stands among nearly a dozen Football Bowl Subdivision schools looking for head coaches, including three in the SEC, and it’s time Smart got that chance.

In fact, it’s past time.

Offensive coordinators have come and gone, but Saban and Smart have done quite a bit together. With their defense always at the forefront, Alabama stands in position to win its third national title in four years.

In all likelihood, the winner of Saturday’s SEC Championship showdown between Alabama, 11-1 and No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, and No. 3 Georgia will play No. 1 Notre Dame for the BCS title.

Sports betting lines already have the SEC champion favored to beat Notre Dame. If that happens, then SEC teams will have won the past seven BCS titles.

Winning SEC titles has been a key to winning national titles and likely will be in 2014, when major college football transitions to a four-team playoff. The key to winning SEC titles has and will continue to be a top defense.

Just ask an offensive mind like Bobby Petrino, someone thought to be at or near the top of Auburn’s wish list. Before Arkansas fired him for off-field issues, he had the offensive-minded Razorbacks scoring enough to be considered one of the nation’s top three teams in 2011.

Problem was the top two teams were in Arkansas’ SEC division. Alabama and LSU, with defenses leading the way, went on to play for the BCS title, which Alabama won.

The SEC is the road to national titles, and the road to SEC titles goes through defense. Over the years Saban and Smart have worked together at Alabama, they’ve done it best.

It’s hard to see a reason why Smart wouldn’t top wish lists around the country. He’s been thought to be a viable head-coaching contender for years but waiting for the right school and time.

The time won’t get any better than now. The only question is whether the right school can be found in this year’s lot, which includes SEC members Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee.

Kentucky was on the list but hired Mark Stoops Tuesday night.

Other schools in BCS conferences seeking coaches include Boston College (ACC), Colorado (Pac-12), North Carolina State (ACC) and Purdue (Big Ten).

All want the formula. Saban and Alabama clearly have it.

The top ingredient is defense, and Smart is finishing his fifth season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. In that span, Alabama has gone 59-7 with two national titles and a third pending.

Throughout that span, Smart has been the coach jumping up and down on Alabama’s sideline, waving his arms as opposing offenses lined up. OK, it might have been strength coach Scott Cochran on occasion but usually Smart.

One gets the idea, and anyone believing that Alabama’s defensive success is really all Saban should consider Saban’s description of how things work between them.

“It’s one thing to be able to help in the planning of what you are going to do,” Saban said. “It’s a whole other set of circumstances to be able to implement that plan when it comes to the game. I think that is something Kirby does a really good job of.

“He understands the system through and through. He knows how to make adjustments. That’s one thing about defense in this day and age. If you play a system, we see so many different things in terms of what we have to defend, you really know how to adapt and adjust what you have systematically, and that’s what’s been good for us, and that’s what Kirby has done a really good job of.

“We communicate a lot during the game, but he certainly does a good job of making adjustments.”

So, what’s preventing any top school from giving Smart a chance? Could it be that he’s not a proven head coach?

A former Saban defensive coordinator got his first head-coaching shot at a top SEC program, and it worked out well for Florida. In Will Muschamp’s second year on the job, he had the Gators in position for a shot at the BCS title going into the regular season’s final week.

In Auburn’s case, could Smart run up against the base? Would Auburn fans not accept an Alabama assistant, let alone a Saban disciple, as its head coach?

Older Auburn heads remember the last time Auburn hired a legendary Alabama coach’s ex-assistant. Pat Dye detoured through East Carolina and Wyoming before taking the Auburn job, but long-time Auburn fans and the College Football Hall of Fame will tell you that Bear Bryant’s former assistant worked out pretty well.

There’s always the question of whether Smart would see Auburn as the right job. The program must rebuild its roster and internal culture, and NCAA investigators are sniffing around the place.

Also, taking the Auburn job would mean competing head-to-head with Saban — same SEC division, same state.

Still, if Smart wants the job, Auburn would be smart to hire him. Perhaps the choice is hiring him or competing against him some day.

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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