AUBURN, Ala. — The highest-paid defensive coordinator in college football is, predictably, also one of the most sought-after head coaching prospects.
Kirby Smart will be a head coach someday. His boss, Nick Saban, has blatantly promised that earlier this season.
But how soon will that be? Alabama’s defensive coordinator of the past six years, whose multiple raises land him at $950,000 this year, will been discussed in open forums as a candidate for the four SEC head jobs available, including the one across the state in Auburn.
“Well, no one has called,” Saban said at his Monday press conference, “but if they do, I always talk to the person and let them know that someone has expressed interest in them. We want our assistant coaches to be able to fulfill the goals and aspirations they have, which is the reason they do a good job for you so they can create an opportunity for themselves to be a head coach.”
Smart won the 2009 Broyles Award as college football’s top assistant, and might be coaching at an even higher level now. Alabama’s defense was historically dominant last year, and despite losing many defenders to the NFL remained in the top four nationally in scoring, total, rush and pass defense in 2012.
The Saban coaching tree includes Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Florida’s Will Muschamp and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio. Those three have a combined 114-61 head coaching record.
“I was that way when I was an assistant,” Saban said. “I’m always in a position to try to help them do what they would like to do.”
No. 2 Alabama is preparing for the SEC championship game against No. 3 Georgia Saturday in Atlanta, seeking the program’s third national title in the last four seasons.
“I think that most of the guys that I have had to deal with in the past have been very professional about that and they have been able to stay focused on what’s important for us to do what we need to right now,” Saban said. “These games are about the players … I think it’s not that difficult from a timing standpoint to be able to manage both things.”
Lutzenkirchen: ‘Commit to a school, not a coach’
Four years ago, Auburn made a coaching change, leaving incoming recruits doubtful about their commitment to the program.
The new head coach immediately began home visits to those potential future Tigers. The first one that coach met with reaffirmed his commitment, sold on what he heard.
Philip Lutzenkirchen, one of the most popular Auburn players in recent memory, reminded current recruits of that story, since Gene Chizik’s firing has left the tenth-rated class in flux while Auburn goes about finding a replacement.
Around lunchtime Monday, Lutzenkirchen tweeted to his 31,668 followers: “Don’t put all the blame on coach Chizik. He wasn’t the one in between the white chalk lines. We were. We all let AU down. Not Chiz alone.” The tight end’s message was retweeted more than 700 times.
The Auburn ambassador and NFL prospect from Marietta, Ga., whose senior year was cut short by a hip injury wasn’t through. He released a statement to AuburnSports.com of the Rivals network.
“To the commits, don’t make any drastic decisions about your future. I went through the same thing my senior year when ‘Tubs’ was relieved. Make sure you commit to a school and not a coach. Coaches will always be coming and going in your four years of college.”
Reports Monday were assistant head coach Trooper Taylor, who’s close with many Auburn recruits, will stay on staff for the time being to keep some continuity without an interim head coach named.
“If you love Auburn for the school and people, please just be patient and see who is brought to lead our program,” Lutzenkirchen said in the statement. “They will bring in the right person(s) for Auburn University. No one asked me to say any of this. I just want to help you recruits who are confused and worried about your future. Auburn will remain Auburn and that is what is important. War Damn Eagle and God Bless.”
Cam’s no comment
During ESPN production meetings to preview the Carolina Panthers’ Monday Night Football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the network asked Cam Newton what he thought of Chizik’s firing Sunday.
Newton, who won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship but was also the subject of intense scrutiny for his recruitment to the program, declined comment.