Using his smarts

Most successful assistants in the SEC don't stay assistants for long. But one of the best defensive coordinators in the country, Alabama's Kirby Smart, hasn't bolted for a head coaching gig after working under Nick Saban for almost eight years.

Assistant coaches in the SEC are usually prime candidates for vacant head coaching jobs around the country. Many times, when they're doing a good job, they don't stick around as assistants for long.

But that can't be said about Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who is entering his sixth season with the Crimson Tide, his eighth season working under Nick Saban.

Smart has moved around a lot since graduating from Georgia in 1999, with coaching gigs at his alma mater, Valdosta State, Florida State, LSU, the Miami Dolphins and Alabama.

Smart seems to appear on short lists for head coaching jobs every year, but he's happy in Tuscaloosa working for Saban for a lot of different reasons.

"I've been very fortunate from the perspective of recruiting, perspective of growing as a coach and perspective of being able to live in the same place for awhile," he said. "It's hard to do in our profession. My first eight years of coaching, I lived in six places. My last six years of coaching, I've been in one place."

Sticking around one program for as long as Smart has allows a coach to see his players through. See the guys he recruited out of high school go on and graduate or get drafted into the NFL.

"To see guys like Mark Barron and Courtney Upshaw, that we helped recruit, go on to be successful, it kind of gives you pleasure as a coach, what you do it for," he said. "Now you see guys like Nico Johnson. We went to his high school basketball games. Dee Milliner, my father coached his dad in high school and now I'm getting to coach him. That gives me a little self-gratification as a coach."

Smart said that when he took the Alabama job, he knew longevity was a possibility, which was appealing.

"I knew when I came here that it was a great place to be," he said. "They give you every opportunity to be successful here. Whether it's the president, the AD, whether it's coach Saban, so I certainly expected to be here a while.

"That's what you want in a coach. There's nothing worse than recruiting a player and then leaving the player. Here you get the opportunity to see them through. That's my greatest self-gratification is seeing those guys all the way through, seeing them have success, having the relationship. I text Dont'a [Hightower], ‘How's camp going? It's going great, man.' You have a better relationship if you coach them that long."

Alabama's defense is one of the nastiest in the country. Last season, the group led the nation in every major statistical category and although this year's crew may be different, it's a safe bet it'll be scary good just like it has been under Smart.

Players have to trust their coaches in order to succeed on (and off) the field, and when the coach shows he's committed like Smart is, it's easy to see why the program flourishes.


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