Much like Indiana Jones, Kirby Smart took what was likely an unintended tumble into the emotional snake pit that is the Alabama-Auburn rivalry Friday.
Speaking about his experience interviewing for Auburn’s head-coaching job, the guy who coordinates the defense for Auburn’s in-state rival and played for Georgia, Auburn’s intrastate rival, used sensitive phrasing.
“Well, first thing, I respect the University of Auburn and the opportunity they gave me to interview and talk to them,” he said to lead off his answer.
That sound one hears is a needle raking across a record.
When outsiders move to Alabama, they inevitably fall into that trap of referring to Auburn University by using common, university-of lingo. They are quickly corrected by local partisans.
It’s Auburn University and the University of Alabama.
Recruits committing to Auburn have used the same language, but they’re recruits making Auburn fans happy. “University of” lingo coming from a guy tied to both of Auburn’s chief rivals doesn’t make Auburn fans happy.
Chances are, Smart didn’t mean to offend. He’s kind of occupied, getting Alabama’s defense to face Notre Dame in Monday’s Bowl Championship Series final.
“The most important thing to us here is to focus on this game and get it done,” he said, continuing his answer. “I thought the interview process went great. Found out things I needed to know, and I’m sure they found out things they needed to know.
“As far as any of the other stuff, I’ll just leave that to us and them.”
Auburn, of course, hired Gus Malzahn after interviewing Smart.
Timetable: Smart, considered the most head-coach-ready assistant on Alabama’s staff, got a lot of questions about his timetable. His answer?
Don’t have one, at least not a hard timetable.
“I forget how old I am sometimes — 36, 37,” he said. “I think I just turned 37. I am so worried about Notre Dame, I don’t know my age.
“I don’t worry about where I’m going to be in three years or 10 years. 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.”
One angle to the Smart-becoming-a-head-coach story is the possibility that he could replace Nick Saban some day at Alabama. Terry Saban, the coach’s wife, hinted at that recently, and speculative reports connecting her husband to NFL openings makes the question of replacing him at Alabama more topical.
Smart dodged a question about his desire to be Alabama’s head coach.
“Well, I’m like Coach Saban; I don’t get into hypotheticals,” he said. “That’s completely a hypothetical.
“I think Alabama is a special, special place, and it’s obviously a great place to coach. But as far as anything outside of that, I’m just worried about this game and being successful at Alabama.”
Square vs. Fluker: Smart and senior defensive lineman Damion Square were asked about practicing for a game that’s likely to come down to who wins the A and B gaps, and Square said he comes well-prepared.
He works every day against Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker.
“It’s awful tough to simulate a guy with that much mass and that type of attitude,” Square said. “Just practicing against that guy, I’m almost positive that I’m not going to see a guy like him on Saturdays.
“He’s going to bring it. He’s going to bring it every day. That’s the attitude he has.”
Smart just shook his head.
“Very few guys I’ve been around like D.J. that love practice,” Smart said. “That guy loves to practice. He is fired up about hitting you.”
Friday practice report: The Crimson Tide worked out in shells at Barry University, and all of Alabama’s injured players who could play Monday were active. Center Barrett Jones (foot) wore the normal practice jersey and went through drills, seemingly pushing off of his sprained left foot well. Wide receiver Kenny Bell (leg) wore a black, non-contact jersey but went through non-contact drills. Freshman outside linebacker Denzel Devall (knee) wore a normal practice jersey and went through drills.
Alabama notebook by Joe Medley of the Anniston Star.