Alabama Crimson Tide: Kirby Smart
He even brought along a friend, fellow Southeast Texas defensive back Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen) an ESPN 150 prospect.
"It was great," said Thompson, who competed in the Texas Class 3A Region III track and field championships with his West Orange-Stark teammates over the weekend. "Tony Brown came with me. We talked to a lot of other recruits, two of the other commits from the Class of 2015. We watched the game, saw some stuff where they need to improve on and what they're good at, so it was a great time going out there and having fun."
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No. 7: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama, Jr.
2012 summary: Milliner led the SEC with 22 passes defended and 20 pass breakups. He tied for fourth on Alabama's team with 54 total tackles and had two interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick. One of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in college football, Milliner was also a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which goes to the national defensive player of the year. He was a unanimous first-team All-American and first-team All-SEC selection.
Most recent ranking: No. 22 in the 2012 preseason countdown.
Making the case for Milliner: The Crimson Tide just keep churning out premier defensive backs. Milliner projects as the fourth Alabama defensive back to be taken in the first round of the NFL draft in the past four years. He's everything you're looking for in a cornerback. At 6-foot-1 and 199 pounds, he's big enough and physical enough to match up with bigger receivers and is also excellent in run support. And when it comes to matching up with speedy receivers, he has the cover skills to stick with those guys as well. Go back to the Discover BCS National Championship when Notre Dame tried him deep a couple of times, and Milliner was right there to make the play every time. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart relied on Milliner to be his stopper in the secondary and put a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. The term "shutdown corner" is thrown around a lot in football circles, and there's been some debate on whether Milliner would fall into that category. What's not debatable is the impact he had Alabama's defense this past season, his instincts to be in the right place at the right time and the way he defended his side of the field. After playing in the shadow of Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie the season before, Milliner developed into the league's most complete defensive back in 2012.
- No. 8: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama, RJr.
- No. 9: AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama, RJr.
- No. 10: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama, Jr.
- No. 11: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia, Fr.
- No. 12: Barrett Jones, C, Alabama, RSr.
- No. 13: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia, RJr.
- No. 14: Kevin Minter, LB, LSU, RJr.
- No. 15: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia, Jr.
- No. 16: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M, Jr.
- No. 17: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri, Jr.
- No. 18: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida, Jr.
- No. 19: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU, RJr.
- No. 20: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama, Fr.
- No. 21: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee, Jr.
- No. 22: Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida, Sr.
- No. 23: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt, Jr.
- No. 24: Matt Elam, S, Florida, Jr.
- No. 25: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State, Sr.
But it is not to his mother, Adama Kamara, who had Saban in her den on Wednesday night.
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Kirby Smart has coached two national-championship defenses at Alabama.
But there will always be a special place in his heart for the one he’s coaching right now and the one he will lead onto the Sun Life Stadium field Monday night in the Discover BCS National Championship.
“I’ll tell you, this group has probably been one of my most favorite to coach since I’ve been at Alabama,” said Smart, who's in his fifth season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. “They didn’t have bad expectations, but a lot of the media, you guys, had bad expectations for this group.
“I never was worried about their competitive character. Sure, we lost some good players ... four or five [NFL] draft picks, whatever it was, we lost off that team. But we had a lot of good players behind those guys, and this group, to me, had a little chip on their shoulder and felt slighted that people didn’t think they’d be good.”
The actual number of draft picks Alabama lost off last season’s national championship defense was six, and there were more than a few people wondering whether Smart would be able to retool this group into the kind of unit that could get the Crimson Tide back onto this stage.
Well, here they are.
Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsAlabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart celebrates the nail-biting finish of the SEC title game.
“We weren’t going to be that defense that didn’t live up to the standard here at Alabama.”
Whatever happens Monday night against Notre Dame, this won’t go down as Alabama’s most talented defense, nor will it be remembered as the Crimson Tide’s most dominant defense.
But Smart loves the way this group fights, the edge it plays with and its penchant for coming up with stops in key situations.
The Crimson Tide lead the country in total defense, allowing 246 yards per game. They also lead the country in limiting plays that have gained 10 or more yards (105), and one of the reasons they do is because they don’t miss many tackles. They’ve allowed 54.7 rushing yards after contact per game this season, the second-lowest average in the country.
“We haven’t played great all the time, but we’ve played with great competitive character,” Smart said. “I mean, they have competed hard. We’ve been behind at LSU. We’ve been behind against Georgia. We lost to Texas A&M, but we were behind in that game and fought back.
“So every time these defensive guys have been challenged, they’ve responded.”
The best news for Alabama fans is that Smart is still running the Crimson Tide defense.
For several years, he’s been one of the hottest commodities in college football among assistant coaches, and he interviewed for the Auburn head-coaching job last month. There have been other head-coaching opportunities Smart has passed on.
He absolutely wants to be a head coach, but he’s also in a position that allows him to be picky.
“I have the best non-head-coaching job in the country, period,” said 37-year-old Smart, who earns $950,000 per year.
It’s why he doesn’t worry about where’s he’s going to be in three years or even 10 years.
“If you win, that takes care of itself,” Smart said, “and I’m not in such a hurry to run off and do anything. If I was 47, I might feel differently. But the most important thing to me right now is winning championships and developing young men into better players and better people.”
And although previous head-coaching experience is always a plus when you’re up for a job, Smart said there’s no substitute for the time he has spent under head coach Nick Saban.
“To me, personally, my development to become a head coach will be much better working for Coach Saban than necessarily going somewhere else because you learn every day that you’re in there,” said Smart, who was named the AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year this season.
“The experience that I’ve been able to gain through being with [Saban] is, ‘Hey, this is how you run a major program. This is the way you do it, and this is the way you question every part of your organization, therefore making it better.’”
Smart's time will come to run his own program, probably sooner rather than later.
Right now, he's too busy winning championships to worry about when the right job will come along.
Alabama: Coach Nick Saban has been here before. So has defensive coordinator and AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year Kirby Smart, linebackers coach Lance Thompson, defensive line coach Chris Rumph and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. Simply put, Alabama's coaching staff does not lack for championship experience heading into the Jan. 7 showdown with Notre Dame.
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsNick Saban has more than just championship experience working for him.
"Why do you have to come up with something new?" Saban said of incorporating new wrinkles against Notre Dame with so much time off. "Lots of people do. They think they have a lot of time to practice, so we can come up with a lot of tricks and different things like that. I don't necessarily think that's the way we've done it in the past. I think you technically do what you think you need to do to be able to attack the other team, doing things your players know how to do. If you try to do too many things they don't know how to do, they have a better chance of messing them up."
Notre Dame: What Brian Kelly has done in three short years at Notre Dame is nothing short of remarkable. It wasn't that long ago that the Fighting Irish were agonizing over a pair of failed coaches in Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis. It was starting to look like the problems in South Bend were systematic, that the winning ways of Touchdown Jesus and the Golden Domers had run their course.
That, of course, was proven untrue. Kelly built his brand steadily, winning eight games in his first year and eight games the next. It all came together this season as Kelly brought what SEC fans recognize as a thoroughly Southern flair to his team. In other words, he brought smash-mouth, defensive football to another part of the country.
"I think it's very, very comparable," UA offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. "This is as good a front seven as we've seen. They do a great job jumping in and out of their odd defense and going from an odd to a four-down front, and they've got big, physical, fast players. They run well on the back end, very well coached. They're just a really, really good defense."
Final Verdict: For all that Kelly has done, he hasn't reached the promised land yet. This is his first time on the big stage and how he handles it is still to be determined. For Saban, that question doesn't exist. He has a track record and is working on the D-word at Alabama -- a dynasty. One could go on and on about Saban, but the quality of the UA coaching staff goes beyond the head coach. Smart is one of the hottest commodities in the profession and Nussmeier is making a name for himself after helping quarterback AJ McCarron to a school-record 26 passing touchdowns this season and producing the school's first tandem of 1,000-yard tailbacks.
The Mayans were right. The reckoning is upon us and all that's left to do is read this lousy obituary. We're all goners: you, your neighbors, that guy at the supermarket who remembered your preference of paper over plastic. Even Alabama football is gone. It's a shame really, with the national championship just 17 days away. Would there have been a better place to ride out the end of days than Miami?
That's what we're here to document. We've got the Crimson Tide. Leave the rest to the vultures.
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireIf we're all going down today, why not go out wearing some Houndstooth like the Bear would have wanted.
Was Paul "Bear" Bryant the best college football coach of all time? He was third on the wins list, but had a higher winning percentage than the two coaches ahead of him.
Was Nick Saban the best active coach? He was poised to win a fourth national championship after all. Some argue he was a machine anyway. Maybe he'll survive all this and hit the recruiting trail after the NCAA's dead period ends.
Who was the best player of all time? The best running back? The best quarterback? Was Trent Richardson better than Mark Ingram? What about Shaun Alexander? Would T.J. Yeldon have gotten the better of them all if he had four years to do it? Would Kirby Smart ever have become a head coach?
Alabama allowed 246.0 yards and 10.7 points per game this season
Role in 2012: Smart was once again head coach Nick Saban's right-hand man, implementing his defensive scheme and making in-game adjustments for the Crimson Tide.
The good: The sixth-year coordinator performed a nearly complete overhaul on a defense that was historically dominant a year ago. Consider how three-quarters of the secondary was drafted. Think about how two of Smart's All-American linebackers from last season are contributing on Sundays. The way he's brought along young players like Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, Xzavier Dickson and Trey DePriest is remarkable. Despite not having the same type of experience and playmakers as a year ago, Smart has produced a defense that ranks in the top 10 of nearly every major statistical category.
The bad: Whether it was a product of youth or not, consistency evaded the defense. Just look at the late-season lapses on third down as a prime example. When the pressure was on, missed tackles and errors in execution added up. They were correctable mistakes we didn't see a season ago.
Crystal ball: Smart's stock continues to rise. His flirtation with Auburn aside, it's only a matter of time before the 36-year-old makes the leap to head coaching. Athletic directors in need of a leading man will not only see a coach from a strong program, but also one that can recruit like gangbusters. Smart has made huge inroads in the state of Georgia and has helped Saban pull in top-3 classes every year since 2008.
The head coaches are the ones who make the big money in the SEC.
But without a quality staff, a head coach isn’t going to survive very long in this league.
So as we look back on the 2012 regular season, let’s pay tribute to 12 assistant coaches who separated themselves from the rest. Each of these guys made a huge difference in their development of players and units.
We’ll call it our “Dandy Dozen” of SEC assistant coaches, and they’re listed in alphabetical order:
Mike Bobo, Georgia, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: A finalist for the Broyles Award, Bobo has the Bulldogs ranked in the top four in the SEC in both rushing and passing offense. They scored 28 or more points in 11 of their 13 games, and did it with an offensive line that was both young and unproven when the season began.
Burton Burns, Alabama, associate head coach/running backs: Despite injuries to Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler, Alabama didn’t miss a beat in its running game. In fact, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon became the first two players in school history to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
John Chavis, LSU, defensive coordinator/linebackers: Like clockwork, Chavis just keeps on churning out rock-solid defenses at LSU. The Tigers are No. 8 nationally in total defense and No. 11 in scoring defense, and that’s despite losing their top playmaker on defense (Tyrann Mathieu) in the preseason.
D.J. Durkin, Florida, special teams coordinator/linebackers: When you play as many close games as the Gators did this season, you better be good on special teams. They weren’t just good. They were excellent in all facets, which is a credit to Durkin and the job he did in coordinating the entire kicking game.
Herb Hand, Vanderbilt, offensive line: For the second year in a row, Zac Stacy rushed for 1,000 yards, and for the second year in a row, the Commodores more than held their own up front offensively. One of the best decisions James Franklin made when he took the job was holding onto Hand from the previous staff.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas A&M, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: Just his work with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel alone was enough to get Kingsbury some serious props. But Texas A&M’s offense also put up crazy numbers in its first season in the SEC. Kingsbury, a finalist for the Broyles Award, has suddenly become a hot commodity in the head coaching ranks.
Brad Lawing, South Carolina, defensive line: One of the more underrated coaches in the SEC, Lawing has been doing it for a long time at a very high level. His defensive lines at South Carolina have been excellent the past few years and are one of the big reasons the Gamecocks have made their move into the SEC’s upper tier.
Matt Luke, Ole Miss, co-offensive coordinator/offensive line: Just about everybody agreed in the preseason that the offensive line was Ole Miss’ weakest link, but Luke was able to get everything and then some out of that group after a lackluster showing by the Rebels in the trenches in 2011. What’s more, Ole Miss was one of only three teams in the league (Texas A&M and Georgia) to average more than 250 yards passing and 165 yards rushing this season.
Sam Pittman, Tennessee, offensive line: Few units in the league improved as much from 2011 to 2012 as Tennessee’s offensive line. The Vols gave up just eight sacks in 12 games, which was tied for fourth nationally, and padded their rushing average by more than 70 yards per game. Pittman’s approach was exactly what the Vols needed up front, and they blossomed into one of the top offensive lines in the SEC.
Dan Quinn, Florida, defensive coordinator/defensive line: The Gators won 11 games in the regular season, and they held the opposition to 17 or fewer points nine times. Quinn, a Broyles Award finalist, put a defense on the field during his first season at Florida that was very good. But the one this season played at a championship level. The Gators head to the Allstate Sugar Bowl ranked No. 3 nationally in scoring defense and No. 5 in total defense.
Bob Shoop, Vanderbilt, defensive coordinator/safeties: For the second straight season, the Commodores rank among the top 20 teams nationally in total defense. They’re also No. 15 in scoring defense. They’re not real big up front and lost three key players from last season (Chris Marve, Casey Hayward and Tim Fugger), but Shoop keeps finding ways to stop people.
Kirby Smart, Alabama, defensive coordinator/linebackers: Alabama fans were holding their breath when it looked like Smart might be going to Auburn as head coach. The Crimson Tide had six players drafted off of their 2011 national championship defense, but here they are again going back to the national title game and ranked No. 1 nationally in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense.
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.
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1. Downhill running: When Alabama wanted to run the ball, there was nothing Georgia could do about it. The offensive line was punishing, pushing the line of scrimmage 3, 4 and 5 yards at a time. All Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon had to do then was find a hole and run through it. Alabama set an SEC title game record with 350 yards rushing with Lacy accounting for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Yeldon's 154 yards was just enough to get the freshman to 1,000 for the season.
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Smart, in his sixth season on the Alabama staff, won the Broyles Award in 2009 as the top assistant coach in college football. His Alabama defense is ranked first nationally in scoring defense and second nationally in total defense.
His defenses have helped Alabama win two BCS national titles in the past four years, and five of his defenders earned All-America honors in 2011. Smart has had six players become first-round NFL draft picks in the past three years.
Off the field, Smart has been involved in various fundraising activities as a member of the Alabama coaching staff. He participates in Nick’s Kids, an organization in which head coach Nick Saban and his wife Terry have raised more than $2 million for area youth charities over the past five years. Smart participated in tornado relief efforts after the devastating storms in April of 2011. He helped set up a fund to help the son-in-law and grandchildren of former Alabama coach Joe Kines following a car accident that killed Kines’ daughter.
Each year, staff representatives from NCAA and NAIA football-playing schools are asked to nominate an assistant for consideration. From those nominations, a winner is selected by the AFCA Public Relations Committee. The winners of this award were selected from Football Bowl Subdivision, Football Championship Subdivision, Division II, Division III and the NAIA.
The Assistant Coach of the Year award was first presented in 1997 and was created to honor assistant coaches who excel in community service, commitment to the student-athlete, on-field coaching success and AFCA professional organization involvement.
The criteria for the award are not limited to on-field coaching ability or the success of the team and players that these assistant coaches work with. Service to the community through charitable work and other volunteer activities, participation in AFCA activities and events, participation in other professional organizations and impact on student-athletes are all taken into account in the selection process.
The hype of the game wasn't a deterrent to the day's events, though. For players and coaches, it was more of the same: Work out, watch film, practice. Rinse, repeat.
Alabama hasn't gotten to No. 1 in the country by letting the pressure get to it. What's at stake goes without saying.
"Everybody knows the ramifications of the game," coach Nick Saban told ESPN's Samantha Steele.
The goal: stay the same, play the same. Saban doesn't want anxious players coming out of the tunnel in Death Valley on Saturday night. The environment there is capable of eating players alive if they're not prepared.
But how do you know when your players are ready? How do you know they're focused?