MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla. — When Kirby talks, coaches listen.

That’s essentially what Lane Kiffin was saying at the SEC Spring Meetings at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Resort.

“It was very strange not having Coach Saban,” Kiffin said after the coaches gathered to meet and discuss issues on Tuesday. “I think Kirby took the lead there.”

Kiffin enters his fourth season at Ole Miss as the third-longest tenured coach in the SEC, hired on Dec. 7, 2019.

Kentucky’s Mark Stoops (Nov. 27, 2012) has the longest current reign at his school, followed by Smart (Dec. 1, 2015) after Nick Saban retired from Alabama.

Smart’s football success speaks for itself: His 96-14 record since taking over for Mark Richt in 2016 ranks as the most wins by any head coach in their first eight years, and Georgia is riding a streak of three consecutive 12-0 regular seasons.

Smart typically makes it a point to not to speak for others, but his views on Tuesday were in line with what would work best league-wide for the SEC, and his peers surely took note.

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A year ago Smart was vague when it came to addressing the possibility of the SEC moving from an 8 to a 9-game schedule, perhaps not wanting to get caught up in any controversy.

But with Saban gone, Smart didn’t hold back his wisdom on Tuesday.

“If you tell me we’re going to get more teams in (the college playoff) by playing nine, I vote for that,” Smart said. “If we’re going to have a strength of schedule factor that says that these teams that play these really hard teams, they should be allowed to have two or three losses and get in, then I’m for it.

“If it doesn’t help us, then why do it?”

Smart recognizes the lead for his leadership, particularly now, with collegiate athletics in transition and facing a multitude of issues.

“In the nine years I’ve been part of this, this is the most anticipated meetings because there is so much left -- not necessarily for us to decide – but for us to have input on,” Smart noted.

“Some of it is beyond our decision-making process. So, there is a lot there.”

And Kiffin, as much as any coach in the SEC, respects and supports what Smart has to say.

“I just really appreciate Kirby,” Kiffin said before the teams’ met last season. “I really consider him a friend that really helped me at a challenging time in my life when I moved to Tuscaloosa not being a head coach anymore, family not moving, and I really appreciate his friendship and help during that time.”

Smart said the SEC’s expansion allows for more input from more coaches, but that Saban leaving does leave a hole that needs to be filled.

“Well I think we’ve got two new coaches in there now, so we went from 14 to 16, that itself brings more energy, juice, whatever you want to say, experience in Sark (Steve Sarkisian) and Brent (Venables), but Coach Saban was one of the most veteran guys in there,” Smart said. “I think he’d been in the SEC longer than anybody, he had sat in those meetings more than anybody, and when you add the LSU and Alabama time together, it was very valuable.

“I think people relied on him for experience and knowledge, he’s very thoughtful in terms of what he comes up with and ideas to make football better.”

And now it’s Smart’s turn and assumed role to lead a room filled with some of the most powerful and successful coaches in recent college football history.