Under rules set by head coach Nick Saban, Alabama's two successful coordinators are made available to reporters only once during the regular season. When Smart and Nussmeier stepped to the podium in Alabama's Naylor Stone Media Suite in the school's football complex Sunday , they showed the different stages in which they are in their respective careers.
Smart, 37, is entering his seventh season with Alabama -- sixth as the defensive coordinator -- and his ninth season working with Saban. Nussmeier is looking to avoid the sophomore slump in just his second year with the Crimson Tide.
Year in and year out, Smart fields a top five defense that churns out high NFL draft picks -- seven first-rounders and three second-rounders since 2010. In the past, Smart was overshadowed, partly because of the belief Saban controls the defense.
But Smart continues to gain respect from his peers and is considered to be one of the top heading coaching prospects, if he decides to leave Alabama. Smart has been linked to several SEC coaching vacancies, including in-state rival Auburn.
Smart was recently rewarded with a significant raise for his accomplishments and not bolting for another job, as the school signed him to a three-year, $3.85 million contract.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be with coach Saban this long, learned a lot of football from him,” Smart said. “It’s been kind of the key to my personal success out of the places that I've coached.”
For the past two seasons, Alabama has finished No. 1 in the nation in most significant defensive categories. But Smart judges his defenses by previous standards, which he said the 2012 defense didn’t completely meet.
“A lot of people think our standard is to be first in the SEC, be first in the country, first in our red zone and run defense. We really don’t go by that motto,” Smart said. “We go by, ‘Be the best Alabama defense there’s been.’ We compare ourselves to the last five years of Alabama defenses. When you do that, last year’s defense was not exactly up to par. Not exactly spectacular. We put in a lot of work to improve on defense.”
Smart was named the 2012 AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year and won the Broyles Award in 2009, which is also given to college football's top assistant coach. Saban commended Smart for the job he’s done and said the team’s success is “proof in the pudding.”
“I think his energy and enthusiasm has always been at a high level and he's been able to sustain that with the players,” Saban said. “You’ve always got to reinvent the team, and I think Kirby understands that and has done a really good job of that. I think he has tremendous potential in the future to be a very, very good head coach because of the leadership that he’s demonstrated in managing what he’s been responsible for.”
On the other hand, there is Nussmeier, who joined the Tide after three seasons as the University of Washington’s offensive coordinator. He spends much of his time working with the quarterbacks as well.
“Last year was wonderful, the opportunity to be here at the University of Alabama, very very grateful for the opportunity that coach Saban has given us as a family,” Nussmeier said. “I can’t say enough about how we’ve been treated here in Tuscaloosa.”
Nussmeier, 42, is building on recent success that began with Jim McElwain, and in a way, rebranding how Alabama’s offensive is viewed -- from strictly a smash-mouth running attack to something with more balance.
“When you can create (balance) on offense, it makes it difficult to defend you,” Nussmeier said. “Obviously, different games are going to lead you to play the game differently by what you see defensively. We have core philosophies that we believe in. But game-by-game those may change a little bit by what we see we can take advantage of.”
Nussmeier is fresh off a rookie season in which his offense featured the nation’s most efficient passer in AJ McCarron, two 1,000-yard rushers in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon and a 1,000-yard receiver in Amari Cooper.
Three of those four pieces are back along with other veterans and a new crop of talent eager to stamp their legacy in Alabama lore.
“I thought he did a really good job from a transition standpoint last year of not making so many changes that it made it difficult for everyone else in the building in terms of the players and other coaches that we have here systematically,” Saban said. “And then we’ve been able to gradually add to that and develop the things that our players on our team can do. Doug’s a very bright guy, and I think he’s done a really good job. I think he’s continued to improve his ability to help develop our players so that we can be the most productive offensively.”