Athlon Sports senior writer David Fox compiled a list of the top 40 college football coaches under 40 and named Alabama’s Kirby Smart the second-best coordinator in the country.
Smart, 39, has been an assistant under Saban for all but one season since 2003 and is probably offered several head-coaching gigs on an annual basis. While Smart could be the successor to Saban, 63, it could be quite some time before Saban goes anywhere.
Will Smart stick it out in Tuscaloosa, or will he eventually take his talents elsewhere?
“That’s an interesting proposition,” Fox said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I think we’ve seen over the years that Nick Saban assistants haven’t had a ton of trouble getting their next job. They’re all over the place. Some of them have come back to work for him again. But it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with him. On the one hand, he’s probably playing his cards correctly where you can make a very, very good living as a coordinator at one of the top schools in the SEC and as the top lieutenant to Nick Saban. So you kind of think he has his pick of jobs. When he wants to take a head coaching job, he doesn’t have to take a rebuilding project in the Sun Belt or Conference USA or whatever. He might be able to step into a god job in the SEC or a good job in the Big Ten or whatever it might be. So maybe he’s playing his cards that way.
“But you do wonder,” Fox continued. “He’s been there for awhile and his name has shown up so many times and he’s only 39. You might wonder why hasn’t this guy become a head coach? Because that tends to happen where a guy maybe sticks as a coordinator for awhile and then has trouble getting a head coaching job when he wants it. But again, 39 years old. This is a good problem to have to be in demand kind of whenever he’s ready to make that leap.”
If you’re curious, Fox’s top coordinator is Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, 38, and his top head coach is Memphis’ Justin Fuente, 40.
As Fox’s list revealed, there are a lot of elite, young coaches at high-profile programs or programs that are becoming more high profile. Is that simple because media coverage has never been greater, or are programs actually giving younger coaches more opportunities these days?
“I think it’s a few things,” Fox said. “I think one is just the amount of turnover at coordinator and head-coaching positions. Jobs are changing quite a bit, so guys moving into certain positions are younger than they’ve been at any other time in the sport – or at least in the last few decades.”
Younger coaches might also have a leg up in recruiting – for many reasons.
“Recruiting is difficult and it takes a lot of energy and it really counts for something to have the coach who kind of lights up Twitter,” Fox said. “That resonates with recruits. And another trend that stuck out to em . . . was the amount of Air Raid guys – the guys who have come from the Mike Leach school or Kevin Sumlin, Mike Kingsbury, or who worked with Dana Holgorsen. So these are all younger coaches who are kind of on the cutting edge of an offense, and I think that’s another thing that athletic directors are really interested in and really kind of feel the pressure to have an exciting offense. And the guys who coach this offense are all in their 30s or early 40s, for the most part. So I think those three things are kind of at play here.”