NEW ORLEANS — ESPN GameDay host Kirk Herbstreit has seen several college football trends come and go in his 23 years with the popular Saturday program.
The most recent trend of quarterbacks transferring has brought out a side in even the mightiest of head coaches that Herbstreit would prefer not need to exist.
“These powerful coaches are sitting there, and they have to say wonderful things about the backup quarterback, because they have to make sure he’s not hurt and he sees a future,” Herbstreit said, “and that he won’t leave with such a great future ahead of him and how there’s a role for him.
“Can you imagine Bear Bryant doing that? These coaches are doing everything to compliment the second guy more than the first guy,” he said. “That’s where Kirby (Smart) and Nick (Saban) and all these coaches around the country are right now.”
Smart, most recently, has been dealing with a very public transfer exploration involving freshman quarterback Justin Fields.
Herbstreit, who has said since the start of the season that this would be a delicate situation for the Bulldogs, said Smart has done about all he can.
“I thought Kirby did all he could to massage it, and talk about how talented Justin Fields is, and how they always have a place for him,” Herbstreit told DawgNation in an exclusive interview earlier this month.
“You look at these coaches now … Nick Saban, the way he’s dealt with Tua (Tagovailoa) and Jalen (Hurts), they are in tough spots, it’s one things to recruit these guys, but there’s only one football.”
Then comes the postgame interview, and that’s when Herbstreit said it gets tough for the head coaches to find the right things to say without upsetting anyone.
“You play one guy, the media watches and they have to ask questions,” he said. “If they (coaches) say the wrong thing, someone’s dad will get mad.”
Indeed, Smart has made sure to let everyone know what an exemplary role Fields has played in practice even while searching for another school to attend.
“Justin is competing extremely hard, he’s competing, he’s in the meeting rooms,” Smart said. “ When he’s out there with us and has a really good demeanor, he’s getting good reps and proving good competition.
“He decided he wanted to play in the Sugar Bowl and I told him ‘absolutely, we’d love you to play the Sugar Bowl and want you there.’ He’s come out to work and do that and support his teammates.”
Smart, like Saban, recognizes when the spotlight is on his program, and the only way to handle things without creating controversy is in a positive, supportive manner.
To Herbstreit’s point, does Smart have any choice but to let Fields play and say positive things?
Earlier in the season, Saban took a different approach to protecting his backup quarterback’s honor, getting downright defensive when asked about his quarterback situation by Maria Taylor.
Most would agree Smart’s approach has been more effective.
Kirk Herbstreit is working with Allstate this season to celebrate college football and the mayhem that ensues on the field each week.