Could Florida State Really Land Alabama's Kirby Smart as its next Defensive Coordinator?

With Bobby Bowden deciding to retire, Jimbo Fisher must select Florida State's next defensive coordinator and defensive staff.  At least 3 defensive assistant coaches will not be back for Florida State (Mickey Andrews- retiring, Chuck Amato- not retained, and Jody Allen- not retained).  Former Auburn quarterback Daymeune Craig is considered a lock for a position on the offensive coaching staff (expected to replace Dexter Carter), and was even reported to have been at the Maryland game two weeks ago.  We profiled Craig on October 15th in the article linked below.

You'll remember that Tomahawk Nation was the first to conduct an exhaustive defensive coordinator search, all the way back in the middle of October.  If you weren't around back then, you should read the search piece. Kirby Smart was the top choice back then in our mind and due to his age, contacts, coaching acumen, and recruiting ability, he continues to be the top candidate available. 

Due to the incredible success of their respective NFL teams, Karl Dunbar (Vikings) and Travis Jones (Saints) are less likely than they maybe once were.  Both the Vikings and Saints will likely be playing deep into January.  Florida State needs to name a defensive coordinator relatively soon and the NFL schedule of those two just does not mesh with FSU's needs.  This is especially true of Dunbar, who unlike Jones, is not an assistant defensive line coach but the defensive line coach. 

As for Sunseri, I've seen nothing to say he is out of the running other than a rumor that he plans to move his family to Tuscaloosa from Charlotte.  He is still a guy who has a lot of experience under some very highly regarded coaches and would do a fine job.  He's not quite the recruiter that Smart is, however, he is pretty good himself.

If Hudson is the guy, FSU fans should know very quickly because unlike the 'Bama boys, he is not coaching in a game to put his team in the National Championship game.  His East Carolina squad, however, is playing for the Conference USA championship and it is unknown whether he would leave them prematurely to come to FSU if he is in fact the choice.

Then in early November (the 5th to be exact), we had an article calling Bobby Bowden's bluff when he tried to assert that it would be him and not Fisher who would select the next defensive coordinator.  Also in that article, I wrote a few thoughts on why Kirby Smart might decide to come back to Florida State to be with his friend, Jimbo Fisher.  I am not saying this will happen but rather that there are legitimate reasons why Smart would want to come to Florida State.  Many have completely dismissed Smart as a candidate, so here is a re-print of that article in relevant part:

I personally believe the signs point to Alabama's Kirby Smart.  Why Smart?

  1. More money at FSU (5 or 600K)
  2. Connections to Tallahassee and his family is nearby (Smart's parents live in South Georgia, just a stone's throw from Tallahassee).  
  3. Smart coached at Florida State as a grad assistant and loved it, reportedly.
  4. Chance to mold the defense in his own image-- total autonomy and schematic freedom.  And with that autonomy, the chance to get credit for doing so. 
  5. Get credit for turning around one of the bottom 30 defenses in the country.  No matter what, Bama's defense will always be Saban's.
  6. Not having to work for Nick Saban (Guys typically want to work for Saban only long enough to learn all he has to teach, then they get out.  He's terrible to work for and often treats his guys like crap.  Also, families of Saban's coaches typically don't enjoy it.)  As a head coach, Fisher could be slightly less insane than Saban and still be effective.
  7. Quicker path to a head coaching job.  Saban has not done a good job of promoting his assistants for head coaching positions.  In fact, no coach has gone directly from a coordinator spot under Saban to a head coaching job.  Smart would have to know that if he turns FSU's defense around (likely, given the current cluster that is the defensive staff and the surprisingly high level of talent), he'd be one of the hottest commodities in the country, especially given that he learned from two organizational masters.
  8. Other ties I won't delve into.

No matter who it is, the next DC will be of the Saban defensive mold (read that).  There isn't a defensive system that is close when it comes to the college game and Fisher has tremendous respect and admiration for Saban's system.

So I predict that there will be big changes in less than a month, and those changes will be known to the public.  If I had to say it right now, I'd say Kirby Smart in, Bobby Bowden out.

That was November 5th.  I think my timetable on the defensive coordinator could be off by a few days but would still expect an announcement at least a week before Christmas to make sure the desperately needed defensive recruits will know who their coach will be.  Due to unbelievably poor defensive recruiting in 2006, 2007, and 2007, Florida State has almost zero defensive depth.  As many as 16 recruits in this class could be on the defensive side.

The Seminoles' incoming recruiting class is ranked No. 31 by Scout.com and No. 37 by Rivals.com and does not include any five-star players.

Just three of Rivals.com's top 60 players in the state, including Johnson, are committed to FSU. Florida has seven of the top 29 and Miami has pledges from four of the top 44.

While other experts have wavered and waffled, I have not, because I haven't heard anything new on Smart to strengthen or weaken his case. 

I have also heard that Saban and Jimbo Fisher share an agent.  That adds additional intrigue to this story.  It is unknown who represents Kirby Smart.

I do think I should clarify the money issue.  'Bama could pay more money than Florida State, but the question is would they pay more money than Florida State.  This ties in with the "it's Saban's defense" issue.  Does Saban think Smart is worth what FSU might be willing to pay, or does he think he could just get another protege?"  If Florida State offered something like $800K, would Bama match the offer?  If Saban taught Smart he might think he could easily get someone else to do a similar job, and because of his defensive prowess, he is probably right.

I asked Todd of our sister site, RollBamaRoll.com about this and here was his response:

Not a bad analysis...and I could definitely see it happening, but I also wouldn't be shocked at all if Smart stays with Saban until he gets a HC offer. The title shuffling before last season was a move to keep Smart happy and on the staff, so obviously Saban values having him running the defense.

Can you explain the title shuffling?

...while he and [current Clemson DC Kevin] Steele were still there they shuffled titles around (Steele had some crazy title like Executive Head Coach-Defense while Smart was the Defensive Coordinator, or something like that). They were "co-DCs" in name, though each still pretty much had the same function as before (Steele LBs and Smart DBs). But Saban gave Smart a fancier title and more money ($370K) to keep him.

The timetable on this is very interesting.  If Smart were to come to Florida State, would he coach in the national championship game?  Alabama fans were concerned last year about co-DC Steele (mentioned above) being preoccupied with the Clemson job before the Tide lost the Sugar Bowl to Utah.  If Smart did decide to join his friend in Tallahassee, would Bama want him coaching in a possible national championship game?  Florida State fans are all too familiar with a distracted coordinator coaching in a national championship game-- current Georgia Coach Mark Richt had accepted the UGA position while he was still Florida State's offensive coordinator and despite having the Heisman Trophy Winner and a bevvy of other All-Americans on offense, his unit shockingly managed only two points in a 13-2 loss to Oklahoma in 2000.  The aforementioned Sunseri could capably run Bama's defense should Smart decide to leave before the MNC game.  The reverse is also obviously true if the choice were Sunseri, as Smart is already the DC.

Additionally, if this does happen, seeing that Saban and Fisher are friends, Saban would probably require Smart not to poach any of Alabama's current commitments.

As I said, nothing official about Smart has come from FSU or Alabama and with a huge game looming against UF, you can bet it will stay that way.  This should be very interesting in the next week to 10 days.

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