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Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Bama's Smart is staying put

By Alex Scarborough



TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The Alabama Crimson Tide can breathe easy. Nick Saban's top assistant is not heading to The Plains of Auburn. If he had, the flames of the Iron Bowl would have reached a blistering heat. The competition might have, too.

Reports indicate Kirby Smart, Saban's long-time right-hand man on defense, will not become the next head coach at Auburn University. The 36-year-old defensive coordinator has waited patiently to take the next step in his career and will once again bide his time in Tuscaloosa until the right opportunity comes along.

On Saturday, Smart's shoulders caught confetti inside the Georgia Dome as Alabama won the SEC Championship. He smiled and celebrated and hugged his players in a fit of joy. He said his defense had a "heart of gold." A few days later he was interviewing with the Auburn coaching search committee in Nashville, Tenn.

Had Smart left, the impact for the Crimson Tide would have been two-fold. With a national championship match with No. 1 Notre Dame just weeks away, Saban would have entered bowl practice without an entrenched defensive coordinator. Smart would have had to stay and juggle responsibilities or move on and begin the rebuilding process at Auburn. Either way, the outlook for the No. 2 team would have been much different. Smart's ability to implement Saban's scheme and make adjustments during the game was best summed up by linebacker Nico Johnson who said Smart "sees things even before they happen."

"Kirby's been with us for a long time," Saban said a little more than a week ago, just days after Smart was named the AFCA's Assistant Coach of the Year. "It's always good to have somebody with you on your staff that sort of thinks like you and you can really sort of trust in."

Smart, who was permitted to speak to the media just once during the season, said before the start of the season that knew when he came to Alabama, "longevity was a possibility."

“I certainly expected to be here a while," he said. "That’s what you want in a coach. There’s nothing worse than recruiting a player and then leaving a player. Here, you get the opportunity to see them through. That’s my greatest self-gratification seeing those guys all the way through and seeing them have success. To be able to text Dont’a [Hightower] and see how camp is going. ‘It’s going great, man’. You have a better relationship when you can coach a guy longer.”

Saban has spoken of Smart and him being "on the same page" for years and how their symbiotic relationship was so beneficial to the team and the defense. The numbers bear that point out. Since Saban and Smart arrived in Tuscaloosa, they've produced a top-5 defense in all but one season -- their first in 2007. This year Alabama is ranked No. 1 in the country in total defense again.

Supplementing Smart's prowess as a coach is his benefit as a recruiter. He's known as one of the best in the Southeast and has helped Alabama to five straight top-three recruiting classes. The Crimson Tide are ranked No. 3 in the ESPN Class Rankings with 19 commitments.

"Smart’s prowess in the state of Georgia has been a big advantage when supplementing Alabama’s in-state recruiting efforts, especially the metro-Atlanta area," ESPN National Recruiting Director Tom Luginbill said. Eight of Alabama's signees in the 2012 Class hailed from the Peach State, notably starting star cornerback Geno Smith and backup running back Kenyan Drake. "Being at Alabama has also afforded him many weapons in his recruiting arsenal/pitch due to the vast resources they have. Scheme, producing NFL players, playing for and winning SEC and national titles coupled with his work ethic and player evaluation ability have proven to be an ideal recipe for success. He is young, energetic and not too different than another former Saban disciple, Will Muschamp. Smart is a grinder which you have to be in order to win in recruiting."

Now that Smart's flirtation with Auburn is over, he'll return to the recruiting trail on behalf of the Tide, and in a few weeks he'll be back in familiar surroundings on the Alabama campus preparing his defense for a showdown with Notre Dame and a chance at bolstering his resume even further.