NEW ORLEANS — Two years after saying no to his alma mater, Kirby Smart can take comfort in one thing: The next time somebody picks up the phone to offer him a job, it won’t be for a lateral move.
Georgia wanted Smart back as their defensive coordinator, a position he already held at Alabama. But there was a thought by some in Athens, including Mark Richt, that the promise of a more-than-doubled salary – and the option of an attractive escape route from under Nick Saban’s thumb – could lure Smart back to the Bulldogs.
It didn’t happen — and that was the wisest decision Smart ever made.
When Alabama faces LSU on Monday night, Smart will have a chance to win his second BCS championship in three seasons. He no longer is viewed as merely a hot young assistant ready to jump at any head coaching job. He sounds more head coach-ready than ever before, and, to a large degree, he can be choosy about any offers that come his way.
“I definitely think I’m ready to take the next step,” Smart said. “It’s gotta be the right place, the right opportunity. That hasn’t really presented itself. I’m completely happy being the defensive coordinator at Alabama. It’s the greatest non-head coaching job in the country.”
When Georgia started this season 0-2 and Mark Richt’s job security was tenuous, Smart frequently was referenced as a logical candidate to replace him. An unexpected 10-game winning streak blew up that scenario, and Richt’s not going anywhere now.
Smart will tell you he doesn’t pay attention to rumors. Coaches need to operate with tunnel vision. So it follows that when he was asked Saturday, given his aspirations, if he ever allowed himself to take notice when another major program struggled this season, he laughed.
“If you start doing that, you lose your own job,” he said.
Don’t doubt a man who works for Nick Saban.
Smart presided over a defense that allowed the fewest yards (191.2) and points (8.83) per game this season. LSU’s offense has averaged over 38 points. Alabama held the Tigers to three field goals in November (albeit, they were enough for a 9-6 overtime win).
The defense is not all about Smart having Saban above him and great athletes below. He has grown as an assistant in the past two years.
“I look at things from a different perspective now,” he said. “I used to look at things from the secondary, then as a coordinator. Now it’s like, ‘What would I do as a head coach?”
We have been hearing for two years that Saban’s demanding style will wear on the 36-year-old Smart and chase him out of Tuscaloosa. It must mean something that he’s still there.
“When you say, ‘demanding,’ to me the definition of demanding is they require you to do what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it, and how you’re supposed to do it,” Smart said. “That’s what [Saban] does. So is he demanding? Yeah. He requires you to do your job. And I appreciate that. That gives me job security knowing that everyone in the organization is held accountable.”
(Is it just me, or is he starting to sound like Saban?)
Continuing: “To me that’s probably the greatest feature I’ve learned or will take with me when I become a head coach, is you have to be demanding. You have to be able to confront people if they’re not doing their job or not doing it the way you want it.”
Are you sold yet?
Smart officially said no to Georgia on Jan. 11, 2010. Alabama matched the Dogs’ offer ($750,000 annually, which equated to a $390,000 raise). Smart said at the time he “wouldn’t have even considered discussing the [coordinator] position with any other school.”
He added this Saturday: “I felt I still needed to develop as a coach so I could be a head coach, and what better way to do that than under Nick Saban?”
He made the right decision to stay. Before long, somebody will make the right decision to phone him.
By Jeff Schultz