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Bama DC Smart playing it smart, waiting for head coach gig

by | CBSSports.com
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FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Why is Kirby Smart still at Alabama?

Arguably the best young defensive coordinator in college football, Smart could land any head coaching job he wanted outside of the top-tier programs. To land one in a top program, however, all he may have to do is wait.

"Ultimately my goal in my career is to be a head coach," Smart said Friday at the BCS Championship Game media session at Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. "Where that is, I have no idea. It's not like I wake up every day trying to leave Alabama. I have the best non head coaching job in the country, period, because I've got a great administration, we've got a great facility. I want to be where I can win, and I know you can win at Alabama."

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With the persistent rumors that Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban may once again be interested in NFL head coaching vacancies, Smart may be heir to the Crimson Tide coaching gig. If that's the case, he's certainly not saying so.

"Well, I'm like Coach Saban -- I don't get into hypotheticals," Smart said. "That's completely a hypothetical. I think Alabama is a special, special place, and it's obviously a great place to coach. But as far as anything outside of that, I'm just worried about this game and being successful at Alabama."

Smart has spent several seasons under Saban -- first as a defensive backs coach at LSU in 2004 and as the safeties coach with the Miami Dolphins in 2006. Saban then brought Smart with him to Alabama in 2007 as the Tide's defensive coordinator.

Ever since, the results have been unparalleled.

In 2009, Smart won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach en route to a BCS Championship victory against Texas. Smart's 2011 defense led the nation in all five major statistical categories: total defense (183.6 ypg), scoring defense (8.2 ppg), rushing defense (72.2 ypg), passing defense (111.5 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (83.7).

"He reminds me of a miniature Coach Saban," senior safety Robert Lester said.

Another feature Smart has in common with Saban is that both are among the most successful recruiters in the country. According to 247Sports, Alabama finished with the top-ranked recruiting class in 2011 and 2012 and finished third in 2010. Although this season's recruiting cycle has not yet been completed, the Tide rank first in the class of 2013.

"I don't worry about where I'm going to be in three years or 10 years," Smart said. "I think if you win, that takes care of itself, and I'm not in such a hurry to run off and do anything that I don't have a pressing issue. If I was 47, I might feel differently. But most important thing to me right now is winning championships and developing young men into better players and better people."

According to his players, that's exactly what Smart is doing in Tuscaloosa. More than just a brilliant defensive mind, the Crimson Tide rely on his experience as a four-year letterman and All-SEC pedigree as a defensive back for Georgia.

"When I first got here, I had a hard time being redshirted and not thinking that I was going to play," Lester said. "He always had me in the back of his head, knowing that 'He'd have the chance. He can play here.' And he told me, 'Hey Robert, don't throw in the towel yet. The opportunity will come.'

"And it came."

Lester has flourished under Smart's tutelage, racking up 39 starts, 141 tackles and 14 interceptions and has become one of the leaders of Alabama's vaunted defense. On Monday night, Lester will play in his third BCS Championship game under Smart and Saban.

"Actually, I know him a little bit because his dad was my dad's teacher back in high school," junior cornerback Dee Milliner said. "So growing up, they knew each other, so I kind of knew him a little bit back then.

"But he's been helping me out a lot since I've been here at Alabama. As you know, he's a guru as a defensive coordinator with the plays and the integrity that he has and knowledge of the game -- he just helps you out so much on the field."

Milliner projects as a first-round NFL Draft pick if he declares to leave early following a productive 2012 season that saw him earn first-team All-America honors and become a finalist for the Jim Thorpe and Bronko Nagurski Awards.

After Auburn fired Gene Chizik in November, Smart emerged as one of the top candidates for the position. Perhaps committing a sin in the state, Smart interviewed with the Tide's rivals, but was not selected for the position, as the Tigers hired Gus Malzahn.

"My development to become a head coach will be much better working for Coach Saban than necessarily going somewhere else because you learn every day that you're in there," Smart said.

Eventually, Smart will be named a head coach -- the only question is where that opportunity will come.

"You can always say that in just the things that he's doing as a defensive coordinator," Milliner said. "You're going to always have those opportunities and I very much think that he'll be able to move up in his coaching life."

Smart may be moving up the coaching ladder, but depending on what happens with Saban's career, he may not necessarily be moving far.

Follow Lorenzo Reyes @LReyesCBS

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