By John Zenor
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. —
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart wants to be a head coach someday. It’s just that there’s no immediate rush.
The same might be said of top-ranked Notre Dame’s defensive mastermind, Bob Diaco. Both he and Smart have drawn interest from schools for top jobs, which is to be expected. Their defenses are perhaps the nation’s best, and have helped steer both teams into Monday night’s BCS championship game.
The 37-year-old Smart interviewed with the second-ranked Crimson Tide’s in-state rival, Auburn, and seems to be mentioned annually as a head coaching candidate for other programs the past few years.
“It’s not like I wake up every day trying to leave Alabama,” Smart said Friday in his first public comments since meeting with Auburn officials. “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. I think that’s so important.”
Diaco was a candidate at Boston College, among other schools.
Neither ultimately landed the jobs but they’re already in enviable positions working for coaching mentors at top programs. Diaco has been Brian Kelly’s defensive coordinator since 2009, their final season at Cincinnati.
Smart, who makes $950,000 a year, has been with defensive wizard Nick Saban during his entire six-year run at Alabama after one season under him at LSU and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
“I have become who I’ve become as a coach from working for coach Saban,” Smart said.
Tide linebacker Nico Johnson thinks his position coach would make a good head man.
“He’s pretty much like coach Saban,” Johnson said. “He holds everybody to a standard and holds himself to a standard. He gets down on himself sometimes. He feels like he didn’t put us in the best situation. The Texas A&M game ate him up more than any other loss we’ve had.
“As a person and as a coach, he’s something special.”
Saban and Smart have routinely had defenses ranked among the nation’s best during their tenure in Tuscaloosa, with a steady stream of NFL-caliber players. The Tide defense is No. 1 in yards allowed this season.
Again, what’s the hurry to leave?
“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 the most important thing to me right now is winning championships and developing young men into better players and better people.”
Smart said he shares Saban’s aversion to hypothetical situations when asked if he hopes to replace Saban at Alabama. He said Saban has supported him when other suitors approached him.
“I think Alabama is a special, special place, and it’s obviously a great place to coach,” Smart said. “But as far as anything outside of that, I’m just worried about this game and being successful at Alabama.”
Diaco also works for a former defensive coordinator, since Kelly had stints in that position at lower level Assumption and Grand Valley State.
Notre Dame is a private school and doesn’t release salary information, but Diaco was promoted to assistant head coach before this season. Then he became the first Fighting Irish assistant to win the Broyles Award after directing the nation’s top scoring defense.
“The selection committee is all basically Hall of Fame coaches, guys that we really point toward to say, ‘Hey, someday I’d just love to be like that guy,”’ Diaco said. “So it’s a great, great honor, one that I don’t take lightly at all. I’ve talked about it with my family. I’ve talked about it with my wife through this grind of years from stop to stop and place to place.
“It’s just a great honor as it relates to a job well done in service.”