Alabama's defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart, is quickly becoming one of the biggest names in college football today. As Smart's popularity increases so too must Nick Saban accept his inevitable departure.
Alabama and Saban have been doing their best to keep Smart at the Capstone, and for good reason.
Saban deserves a lot of credit for rebuilding Alabama after the dark Mike Shula days (and six straight Iron Bowl losses), but Kirby Smart just might deserve equal credit.
During Smart's first year with the Tide in 2007 the defense ranked sixth in the SEC in total defense behind the likes of Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and even *gasp* the Auburn Tigers.
But Smart was just an assistant coach back then. In 2008, he became the Tide's defensive coordinator and during that year the Tide tied for first in the SEC in total defense with Tennessee.
For the following three years, Alabama's defense was the best in the SEC in terms of total defense and scoring defense.
With Smart as their defensive coordinator the Tide were the best defense in the SEC, which basically means they were the best defense in the nation (though TCU has had great defenses against pathetic competition in 2009 and 2010).
To shorten a long story, any defense run by Kirby Smart is completely unstoppable, unrivaled and unpredictable.
But boy does Alabama pay for it. Smart has been one of the highest-paid assistant coaches for some time now.
In early 2010, the University of Alabama board of trustees voted unanimously to double Smart's salary to $750,000 per year (h/t Don Kausler Jr., al.com).
According to Business Insider's Kevin Baumer, Smart was the highest-paid assistant coach in all of college football that year.
As much as Alabama and Nick Saban would like to keep Smart around, it just might be time to move on.
When he first took over as the Tide's defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart was barely into his 30s. Now, as a young 36-year-old man with more hair on his head than me, he is ready to become a head coach.
If Alabama and the fans could have it their way Smart would stick around until Nick Saban retires and succeed him as the Tide's head coach.
The problem is that Nick Saban doesn't show any signs of leaving any time soon. He will turn 61 during the 2012 football season, but he's the youngest looking 61-year-old that I've ever seen.
Leigh Anne Tuohy once said (h/t Alec Harvey, al.com), "I find him extremely handsome." True story, not just a made-up movie scenario, much to the dismay of her husband, Sean.
Saban is just as competitive as any one of his players, and it's not a stretch to say he just might be at Alabama for another five or more years. To Saban age is just a number, just like those white numbers on crimson jerseys; they don't mean a thing.
What should Kirby Smart do?
He has built an empire in Tuscaloosa that won't crumble as long as he's around and he could have any defensive coordinator he wants. When looking for new coaches he could probably raid any NFL team if he wanted to.
Kirby Smart isn't quite in that league yet, and if he succeeds Saban as Alabama's head coach he will still be a rookie head coach.
It would be a shrewd move to let Smart move on and become the head coach at another program where he can get experience as the man in charge. It would be a shrewd move as long as he doesn't coach an SEC program, anyway.
Sure, he can learn from the best under Saban but hands-on exercises are more beneficial than a good lecture.
If Smart spends a few years as the head coach of a program he will be an expert administrator of college football, and he will be even better and more capable when he returns to Alabama.
Yes, when he returns to Alabama.
Whatever path Smart takes I am certain he will be a head coach at Alabama someday.
Nick Saban will retire eventually and even if he takes the Brett Favre/Joe Paterno route and sticks around until the next Halley's Comet he will need someone to replace him.
You can bet that the University of Alabama will do whatever it takes to get Kirby Smart when that day comes.
Smart is a football savant and one of the brightest minds in the game today, but to keep him as a simple coordinator will not let him grow to his full potential.
It would behoove Alabama to let him explore that potential and bring him back in as a head coach some day. Think of it as an investment. You pay now and reap the rewards later.
And rewards there will be. If Smart continues to grow and produce at his current rate he could be the greatest college football coach ever.
Too soon? No sir, no way. Kirby Smart looks more promising than a young Nick Saban did.
Saban supports star players leaving early for the NFL when their draft stock is sky high, so it's safe to assume he would do the same for his support staff.
When it comes to coaches, Smart's stock is as high as it gets.
Once again, Kirby Smart will be Alabama's next head coach. Not even his alma mater, the University of Georgia, will keep him from that.
Let him go do his thing until then.