Smart: UGA’s primary target after learning under Saban

first_imgAlabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and head coach Nick Saban at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Saturday September 12, 2015. (Mickey Welsh / Montgomery Advertiser)Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and head coach Nick Saban at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Saturday September 12, 2015. (Mickey Welsh / Montgomery Advertiser)TUSCALOOSA — The first time Nick Saban heard of Kirby Smart, Alabama’s future defensive coordinator was a 28-year-old graduate assistant working under FSU legend Bobby Bowden.A friend of then-LSU assistant coach Will Muschamp from their playing days at Georgia in the mid-1990s, Smart appeared to be someone Saban could mold and develop into a defensive disciple.“I was looking for a good, young, smart, bright, aggressive secondary coach that we could sort of develop,” Saban said Monday. “We had gone through a couple years of hiring a secondary coach who’d be there for a year, I don’t know if it was because I was a secondary coach or what, but they’d be gone after a year, mostly to the NFL. So I wanted to get a younger guy and sort of grow and develop the guy and have the guy with me for a while.”That was in 2004, Saban’s last year as LSU’s head coach. A year later, after his first season with the Miami Dolphins, Saban again tabbed Smart to join him in the NFL as the soon-to-be Alabama head coach hired Smart away from his alma mater.By 2007, both Saban and Smart were in Tuscaloosa on the bottom floor of an incredible revival to one of the nation’s traditional powers.Now, eight years later, the 39-year-old veteran coordinator is the hot name on the coaching circuit, with Smart reportedly the frontrunner for at least two Southeastern Conference head coaching jobs, including the recently-opened spot at his alma mater – Georgia.Several publications, including, have indicated that Smart is the Bulldogs’ “primary target” and even factored into the decision to ultimately part ways with 15-year Georgia head coach Mark Richt on Sunday, according to the AJC’s Chip Towers.“Persons close to the Georgia football program who are acquaintances with Smart said the Bulldogs could not afford to sit by idly as ‘one of their own’ took another head coaching job, possibly with a rival program,” Towers wrote’s Bruce Feldman said Smart is “getting strong consideration” to replace Richt, according to unnamed sources, while ESPN’s Mark Schlabach reportedly spoke to a source that said Smart was the “only choice.”“Kirby has done a fantastic job for us, and I think he’ll be an outstanding head coach,” Saban said Sunday. “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.”Smart is a hot candidate for several factors, among those the success he’s had reinvigorating Alabama’s ferocious defense this season, for which he’s been named one of five finalists for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.And, after more than a decade working under Saban during which he had other head coaching opportunities, it believed 2015 could be his last season as an assistant. Smart has reportedly interviewed for head coaching gigs at both Auburn and Ole Miss in recent years but opted to stay at Alabama, where he’s had near-total control of the Tide defense since 2008.“It is a system that he grew up in, which is the old system that we played for years and adapted through the years,” Saban said. “So he understands it and applies it in the game as well as anyone. I think that’s the key.”In the last week, though, Smart has been mentioned as a frontrunner to both South Carolina and now Georgia, where he was a first-team All-SEC safety in 1998.Originally working alongside Saban as Alabama’s secondary coach, Smart has also worked with linebackers before this season and has developed the Tide defense into one of the nation’s best this season after falling off a bit last season.“He’s a good teacher. Players respond to him well. He’s outgoing. He’s got a good personality,” Saban said of Smart. “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.The confidence even extends to his players.Alabama senior middle linebacker Reggie Ragland has little doubt Smart will succeed whatever he does, be it as a head coach or as coordinator.“I think he’ll do good,” Ragland said Monday. “But I know he’s not worried about that right now. I know he’s going to worry about us. And when the time comes for him to worry about that, I know he’s going to do a great job at deciding what he wants to do with his life.”Junior defensive end Jonathan Allen also raved about Smart’s dedication to his job.“He spends a lot time preparing, trying to put us in the best position and situation possible,” Allen said of Smart. “I feel like he does a good job doing that. So definitely his preparation toward the game.”Of course, with No. 2 Alabama set to play No. 18 Florida in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Saban has little doubt where Smart’s mind is at, even as he’s potentially facing heavy interest to become a head coach for the first time in his career.“I would like for our guys to stay focused on what they’re doing here right now,” Saban said. “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 (in the future).”last_img

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