Smart is in the limelight

Published 4:24 pm Friday, August 14, 2009

Tuscaloosa, Ala.—The only thing stationary about him is his visor.

He wears long sleeves to an 95-degree August practice, yet it’s a wonder if excitable coach Kirby Smart even bothers to notice the conditions. He never stops. He paces between players. He raises his arms at each sign of contact and shouts to each player, unwavering interest that can make a simple tackling drill feel as significant as a Super Bowl.

He cries again: “Run through him!”

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This is how a 33-year-old becomes a defensive coordinator in the SEC, making $360,000 a year as one of the rising stars in his profession.

And now more than ever, the limelight is Smart’s to seize. For the first time during his five seasons as a protégé for Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Smart has received the keys to one of Saban’s defenses.

“Kirby, because we’ve been together for a long time, really has a lot of the knowledge and experience that I’ve been able to sort of pass along to him,” Saban said.

While Saban, of course, is never too far from the controls in any aspect of his teams, the Crimson Tide’s defense in 2009 sets up to belong to Smart. That is mostly because Kevin Steele, Alabama’s coordinator in 2007 and defensive head coach in 2008, accepted a coordinator job at Clemson after the Sugar Bowl.

They were a team. Smart was Alabama’s coordinator in 2008—and he made most of the calls during games—but it was clear that the defense was not his alone. There was Saban, and there was the experienced Steele, who certainly had a say.

Smart is the next in a line of coaches like Texas’ new head coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp, who hit a fast track under Saban. Smart left Florida State in 2004 to coach defensive backs at LSU for Saban.

Smart joined Saban again in 2006 with the Miami Dolphins, then followed him to Alabama in 2007 as secondary coach. Saban promoted Smart to defensive coordinator the following year.

“His attention to detail, his intensity is unmatched,” Smart said of Saban.

“That’s what makes him different than a lot of coaches. He’s physically trying to teach you how to do it, how to improve.”

Smart humbly suggests that little has changed now that Steele and outside linebackers coach Lance Thompson (who left for Tennessee) have been replaced by James Willis (from Auburn) and Sal Sunseri (from the Carolina Panthers).

“Everything is primarily the same with the exception of those two new guys,” Smart said.

Editors Note: The above recent story by “Mobile Press Register” sports writer Gentry Estes chronicles 1993 Bainbridge High School Bearcats Region 1AAAA defensive player of the year and University of Georgia Bulldogs All-Southeastern Conference (SEC) defensive back Kirby Smart’s rise to his current position of defensive coordinator on University of Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban’s staff. Kirby is the son of former Bearcats head coach Sonny and Sharon Smart.