Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart’s familiarity with
boss Nick Saban has plenty of pluses for the Crimson Tide – and for
offensive coordinator Jim McElwain.
Smart’s ability to sense Saban’s moods helps keep McElwain out
”He’s been with coach longer so he can kind of head off some of
the things that may be coming for me,” McElwain said Sunday.
”Believe me, that is huge when it comes to that.”
He was smiling when he said that, of course. The roles of Smart
and McElwain in Alabama’s rise to the national championship have
been largely unheralded if only because Saban only lets them talk
to media once a year, not counting bowl-mandated appearances.
”They both have done an extraordinary job of carrying out the
principles and values of the organization that we’ve tried to put
forward,” Saban said.
The success was enough to get both some looks for other jobs
after last season. McElwain was reportedly a candidate for the head
coaching job at San Jose State. Smart got his salary doubled to
$750,000 in a three-year deal after receiving a similar offer to
run alma mater Georgia’s defense for Mark Richt.
He’s going into his sixth year working under Saban, including
one season each with LSU and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
”There’s a lot of familiarity between coach Saban and I,”
Smart said. ”He’s very organized and very detailed. He understands
I know those details and I demand those same details. We might be
doing a practice schedule and I know where he’s going and some of
that goes unspoken.
”We know how we want the drill done. He knows how he wants the
drill done. I know how he wants the drills done. It’s ultimately
his soldiers’, his staff’s, job to get it done.”
Smart has switched from working with the secondary – alongside
Saban – to coaching linebackers this season. James Willis left to
become Texas Tech’s defensive coordinator under Tommy Tuberville,
and Jeremy Pruitt was promoted to secondary coach in the only
offseason staff change.
The Tide defense has ranked second or third in total yards
allowed the past two seasons – and was No. 2 against the run and in
total and scoring defense during the championship run. Smart won
the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach last
Cornerback Kareem Jackson was a first-round pick by the Houston
Texans after his junior season. Experience in Saban’s complex
defense has apparently helped with the Texans so far.
”Their secondary coach David Gibbs called me and told me,
‘Y’all do a lot on defense. I can evaluate Kareem and know that he
can play every technique we’re going to ask him to play, plus some
that maybe I would like to use,”’ Smart said.
Smart has some challenges this season with a defense that has to
replace nine starters.
McElwain has it a little better. The Tide returns eight starters
on offense, including Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram at tailback
and receiver Julio Jones.
McElwain’s offense has steadily progressed in his first two
seasons with the Tide. Alabama was 64th in scoring offense the year
before his arrival and ranked No. 22 last season.
The Tide set a school record for total yards in a season in
”I was just told that statistic,” McElwain insisted. ”I
didn’t even know that.”
He said staying put in Tuscaloosa was a no-brainer, while
quipping that ”nobody really wanted me.” McElwain has a daughter
attending Alabama, another who’s a senior in high school and a son
just starting up in high school football.
”To be at the University of Alabama, to be in this conference,
to work for a guy like coach Saban, to work with the staff that we
have … I’m not sure what is any better,” McElwain said. ”I
can’t tell you how happy I am and our family.
”What an outstanding place to raise a family and be happy about
it, and to be coaching at the top level of where we’re at. I count
my lucky stars. Being a kid from Montana, I never thought I’d even
be standing up here talking to anybody like this.”