May 26, 2024

On Wednesday, Nick Saban declared his retirement from college football, a moment met with surprise by many in the sport. Kirby Smart, who served as the defensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide from 2008 to 2015, winning four national championships alongside Saban, shared his thoughts on Saban’s retirement in a radio interview on Thursday.

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Expressing his initial shock, Smart remarked on the unpredictable nature of departures from the sport. He acknowledged the significance of Saban leaving the game on his own terms, highlighting the immense impact the seasoned coach had on Smart’s own career. The mutual respect between them was evident, as Smart reflected on their professional relationship.

During the radio appearance, Smart delved into broader issues within college football, particularly criticizing the Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) framework and the impact of the transfer portal. He raised concerns about the potential adverse effects of the two-time transfer rule on a player’s mental and academic well-being. Additionally, Smart touched on various topics, including the return of Carson Beck, challenges in the quarterbacks room, and his coaching experience with Brock Bowers.

This is Smart’s commentary on Nick Saban, the transfer portal, NIL, and Carson Beck.

ON NICK SABAN’S RETIREMENT, FIRST TIME MEETING HIM

“I was somewhat taken aback when the news surfaced. It’s a reality we all have to face eventually— the decision to step away from the game. Sometimes, you get to make that choice on your own terms, and it’s great that he had that opportunity. He has had a significant impact on my career. Our first encounter was in Mobile when I was a graduate assistant at FSU. We had an interview around the Senior Bowl, and I made sure to arrive well ahead of time. It turned out to be a positive and unique experience with Coach Muschamp also present.


Back then, perhaps I wasn’t as intimidated as I should have been, considering he had just secured his first national title. I hold him in high regard as a coach, a person, and a man. Both he and Miss Terry have made remarkable contributions to football, particularly in Tuscaloosa. The influence they’ve had is incredible. His coaching prowess is evident in the many coaches who’ve passed through his coaching program. He is exceptionally skilled at what he does. I’ve heard he was still actively coaching until the very end. I have immense respect for him, and he played a significant role in shaping my career.”

ON THE MUTUAL RESPECT BETWEEN HE AND SABAN

“There’s a mutual respect between us. I consistently express my gratitude for the substantial contributions he has made to the game and to fellow coaches. His impact on football is remarkable. Few in his profession exhibit the level of dedication and hard work that he does. He sets high expectations for his staff, but he also leads by example. I respect that, understanding the challenges of sustaining excellence at that level over an extended period. His accomplishments speak volumes.”

ON CARSON BECK RETURNING FOR THE 2024 SEASON

“It serves as a significant momentum boost for the program, instilling confidence that we are on the right path. His decision reflects his trust in us as coaches to guide him in the right direction. Ultimately, it’s a business choice for him, driven by the belief that he can further develop and prolong his NFL career by remaining at Georgia for another year. He conducted thorough research, sought input from those around him, and there was no definitive right or wrong in his decision-making process. He chose the option that aligns best with his aspirations. His overarching goal is a lengthy NFL career, and he aims to enhance his preparation and contribute to winning games in the process. This decision holds considerable significance for our team, influencing recruiting efforts and encouraging other players to stay with him.”

ON WHAT MAKES BECK DIFFICULT TO PLAY AGAINST

“He executed some crucial plays using his running ability. It can be frustrating for coordinators because he typically excels in mental aspects, managing protections, and delivering throws at an elite level. Just when you think you’ve figured out his approach and managed to overcome the offensive line, creating a one-on-one opportunity to tackle him, he takes off. It becomes demoralizing for defenses. Being the top team in the country on third-down offense indicates having a quarterback who truly understands his role. That’s precisely what defines him.”

ON IF HE’S SURPRISED AT THE LOSSES GEORGIA’S QB ROOM HAS TAKEN

“I’m not particularly surprised; nothing catches me off guard these days. It’s all about adapting to the situation and going with the flow. The key is making the most of the information and opportunities presented to you, especially when it comes to acquiring players. We’ve followed this approach and are content with the results. Ryann Puglisi had an excellent series of bowl practices, showcasing his skills in throwing and other aspects. His in-game experience was valuable, contributing to our overall depth in the quarterback room. It’s always beneficial to have depth and options in that position.”

ON WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO COACH BROCK BOWERS

“It was truly special. Each day, you could count on receiving top-notch effort and unwavering toughness. It became almost taken for granted, and you only realize its true value when it’s no longer there. He was never a source of problems, complaints, or grievances. Instead, he was a consistently reliable worker. Right from the start, he showcased his ability to make impactful plays. His legacy lies in the way he approached challenges, whether it was diligently attending morning treatments or putting in extra effort during workouts. The stories of his dedication and work ethic will become legendary around here, leaving a lasting impression. He was truly one of a kind.”

ON HOW THE NIL, TRANSFER PORTAL IS NEGATIVELY AFFECTING PLAYERS

“It’s making an impact on coaches and indirectly influencing players. While some believe that having numerous options is beneficial for kids, I tend to disagree. The constant consideration of ‘What else could I be doing? Where can I go for immediate success? What’s the best pathway for me?’ can wear on many players across college football. Often, the best path is right where you currently are.


The idea that the grass is always greener elsewhere can affect academic performance, emotional well-being, and mental health. Constantly contemplating alternatives can lead to doubt. I have reservations about the current state where players can transfer twice and make two moves in a year. It introduces a significant amount of uncertainty. Unfortunately, it’s regrettable that the situation has escalated to this extent. Many of the players who left our program look back and acknowledge, ‘Coach, I made a mistake. I just didn’t know any better.'”

ON HOW TO SOLVE THE NIL, TRANSFER PORTAL ISSUES

“People often bring up coach salaries and the freedom coaches have to move between positions. I understand that perspective. However, it’s crucial to note that coaches can also face termination and contractual buyouts. Players, on the other hand, lack such safeguards. It would bring me considerable comfort if a student-athlete could, upon enrollment, commit to being on scholarship for the entirety of their four or five years. Alternatively, if a student-athlete chooses the path of NIL, they should be aware that they could lose that privilege and face termination.


While most students might opt for the NIL path, a system where 15-20 kids each year choose the scholarship route and make a commitment to stay for 2-3 years could strike a balance between individual opportunities and a commitment to the team.”

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