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Alabama Football: Why Nick Saban Can't Afford to Let Kirby Smart Leave

The future of defensive coordinator Kirby Smart could be one of the biggest issues for Nick Saban to worry about between now and the time Alabama faces Notre Dame in the BCS national title game.
The future of defensive coordinator Kirby Smart could be one of the biggest issues for Nick Saban to worry about between now and the time Alabama faces Notre Dame in the BCS national title game.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Sanjay KirpalaniNational Recruiting AnalystDecember 5, 2012

With last weekend’s games representing the conclusion of the regular season, schools with coaching vacancies are working around the clock this week in search of finding the perfect replacements.  

Undoubtedly, one of the hottest names from the pool of deserving assistant coaches that could be in line for a promotion is Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.  

While it appears to be only a matter of time before Smart—the 2009 Frank Broyles Award winner given to the nation’s top assistant coach—departs, losing him will hurt Nick Saban more than any other departures from his staff in recent memory. 

Smart already interviewed for the head coaching job at rival Auburn earlier this week, and was at one point a strong candidate to replace Gene Chizik according to Charles Goldberg of 

The Tigers have reportedly chosen Gus Malzahn instead (h/t, Charles Goldberg, 

Given the Tide’s recent success, Saban is used to other schools trying to poach his staff. 

However, he has always managed to stay one step ahead by luring capable replacements that have kept the Tide on top.  

After all, Alabama is making a return trip to the BCS national title game one year after offensive coordinator Jim McElwain left to take the head-coaching job at Colorado State.  

So what makes Smart a valuable commodity to Alabama, and why would his departure sting? 

For starters, he is one of only two assistants that were part of Saban’s original staff that he hired when taking over at the Capstone in 2007 (running backs coach Burton Burns is the other).  

Also, Smart has crafted a defense that has been primarily responsible for Alabama’s rapid ascension into college football’s most dominant program. 

The Tide have lost defensive position coaches and a wealth of talent over the years, but the synergy between Saban and Smart has been the engine that has kept the defense at an elite level for the last five years and counting.   

The potential turnover on that side of the ball would seem to have a greater effect on a young unit that has already struggled in key games this season. 

Additionally, timing may be the biggest factor as to why Saban and Tide supporters would prefer to keep Smart around in Tuscaloosa for a bit longer.  

Should he accept another job soon, that could have a huge effect on next month’s national title tilt with Notre Dame, and may put Saban in a bit of a bind on the recruiting trail with National Signing Day less than two months away. 

With the buzz around Smart’s name only building, it is highly likely that Saban has already prepared ahead with regards to finding his potential successor.  

Given the success of previous coordinators he has hired, the most promising candidates are likely to jump at the chance to learn under Saban.  

But similar to past schools that had runs of sustained success, Saban knows that the process of replacing Smart will prove to be one of the toughest challenges for the future of his program.  

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