Skip to main content

Nick Saban on Kirby Smart: "He did as good a job as anybody that I've ever had on our staff"

Kirby Smart was the longest-tenured coordinator Nick Saban's ever had in Tuscaloosa, but they will stand on opposite sidelines for the fourth time this weekend.

The last few days have shown how quickly coaching changes can happen in today's college football landscape, but especially in the SEC. LSU made the splash hire with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, and Florida hired a former Alabama assistant in Billy Napier. 

All but four SEC programs have fired their coaches since 2019 with two of those four programs being the teams squaring off in Saturday's SEC Championship game between No. 3 Alabama and No. 1 Georgia. 

With all the the coaching turnover in the SEC, Alabama has run a steady ship with Nick Saban at the helm for the past 15 years. Now in those 15 years, there has been plenty of turnover on the staff underneath Saban with four different defensive coordinators and seven different offensive coordinators. 

The longest-tenured coordinator under Saban at Alabama: Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. He served as defensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa from 2007-2015 before making the jump to the head position at his alma mater in Athens.

"I had a tremendous time while I was at Alabama, accomplished a lot of great things," Smart said. "I'm very appreciative of the things I got to grow as a coach there and raise a family, and all my kids were born there. My wife still has a lots of friends there in the Tuscaloosa community. So it's been a big part of it."

During Thursday's media availability prior to the SEC Championship game, Smart and Saban talked about how their relationship has evolved over the years.

Smart said that he and Saban don't communicate daily or weekly because they are both busy with their own jobs and families, but he is appreciative of what he learned from Saban at Alabama.

Read More

"He's meant a lot in my career, as he has a lot of coaches out there in the country," Smart said. "I think you appreciate the job he does more when you're gone than maybe when you were there because, when you move on, you appreciate the fact that he works really hard, he doesn't ask any of his assistants to do anything that he doesn't do, and he holds everybody to a high standard."

Saban said he's always grateful of what his assistants do for him during their time in Tuscaloosa, and he holds a certain sense of pride when they move on to other places and do a good job. 

"Kirby's done a marvelous job," Saban said. "He did an outstanding job in all the years we were together. I don't know, nine or ten years. It was a long time that we worked together. He did as good a job as anybody that I've ever had on our staff. I knew that when he got his opportunity to be a head coach, he would do a really good job."

Now in his sixth year as the head coach of the Bulldogs, Smart has won four Eastern division titles and won the SEC in 2017. He also took Georgia to the College Football Playoff in 2017 where they lost to Alabama in the championship game. He's also put the Bulldogs in the position where they are this season with a 12-0 record and No. 1 ranking. 

Smart is 0-3 against Saban with the national championship loss, the SEC title loss in 2018 and last season's 41-24 regular season loss in Tuscaloosa. Overall, the Bulldogs have lost their last six games against the Crimson Tide dating back to 2008. 

This year is a little different as Smart's team is favored. Saban called Georgia the most consistent and dominant team in football this season. The normal relationship will be somewhat flipped when Saban and Smart stand on opposing sidelines this weekend. 

"I've had the utmost respect for Kirby and his team in those games, and I certainly have it in this game," Saban said.