TUSCALOOSA, ALA. — Alabama assistant football coaches are off limits to the media during the season. But the topic of them being romanced by other programs seeking to poach a little Crimson glory is front and center today.
So, it was left to Alabama head coach Nick Saban and a few of his players to address the qualifications of a certain Crimson Tide defensive coordinator who reportedly is in line for a certain office with a view in Athens.
Kirby Smart has the support of many around the Mal Moore Athletic Facility here, should Georgia come around looking for references.
Senior ‘Bama linebacker Reggie Ragland soon will be leaving Alabama, but not before he plays in one more SEC Championship game Saturday. And with a victory, one more crack at the college football playoffs. If his coordinator follows him out of town, Ragland certainly would understand.
“If he leaves I know he’s going to be happy. If he stays I know he’s going to be happy,” he said Monday.
Of the possible conflicts between considering another job while preparing for multiple championship games, Ragland seemed unconcerned about Smart’s focus. “I think he’ll do good (as a head coach), but I know he’s not worried about that. He’s going to worry about us,” he said. “And when the time comes for him to worry about that, I know he’ll do a great job deciding about what he wants to do with his life.”
During a Sunday conference call, Saban was asked whether Smart’s lack of head coaching experience would leave him ill-prepared for the wide range of responsibilities on and off the field that come with the job.
His boss said Smart, who was a Bulldogs defensive back from 1995-98 and a former assistant at his alma mater, was ready for any challenge.
“I’ve said many times before in years past that Kirby has done a fantastic job for us, and I think he’ll be an outstanding head coach. I don’t think everything you do as an assistant necessarily prepares you as a head coach, but I also think by the same token that Kirby is very capable of doing all the things necessary to be a head coach.
“He’s a good teacher. Players respond to him well. He’s outgoing. He’s got a good personality. I think he’ll do a good job in all the other areas that you’re talking about. I don’t have any question about that at all.”
Having built his own kingdom in Bear Bryant’s realm, Saban is accustomed to having his assistants mentioned for other jobs here and there. A certain amount of turnover is one of the small prices of unbounded success. At least three of his staff — Smart, Lane Kiffin and Mario Cristobal — have been floated as possibilities for one or the other of 14 vacancies.
Smart is the headliner of that group, the 39-year-old coordinator of a defense that has been top five in the country every year but one since he was elevated to that position in 2008. This season, anchored by a front seven widely considered the best in the land, Alabama has given up less than 13 points a game in winning nine straight since a September loss to Ole Miss.
A defensive mind himself, Saban coyly deflects any suggestion that he is the real architect of Alabama’s stifling D, saying, “This is Kirby’s defense. He’s the defensive coordinator. I try to be a good graduate assistant whenever I can to sort of help him out.”
Once more Saban is in a familiar position of holding his potentially distracted staff together at the most important point of a season. That also was the case, for instance, at the close of the 2011 season, when his offensive coordinator worked on through to the national championship game despite having already taken a job at Colorado State. That was Jim McElwain, now the Florida coach, who will be facing Saban Saturday at the Dome.
In such cases, Saban says he has no set policy for how his assistants handle such a delicate situation.
“We take every one of those situations individually,” Saban said.
“I would like for our guys to stay focused on what they’re doing here right now. I have no reason to believe that anybody isn’t totally focused because for us to play well at whatever they’re responsible for is certainly going to be helpful to any opportunities that they can create for themselves.”