Nick Saban rarely lets his assistants speak to the media, and it's a damn shame because his defensive coordinator dropped more honest, compelling information in an 11-minute radio interview than most of his peers do in an entire year. Speaking with Sports Radio 680 The Fan in Atlanta, Kirby Smart opened up on the constant grind that recruiting at the highest of levels has become in 2015, and the toll it takes on those that do it.
"We're recruiting non-stop. At least in pro ball they've got rules, they can't be around their players. For us, it really never stops, recruiting, but at least the football stops," Smart said. "That cell phone you've got, the smartphones, are the death of college coaches. Every college coach I talk to won't say it on record but everyone's thinking, 'Should I go to the league?' Because you don't have the same requirements; the hours are different. Recruiting is non-stop."
After a host asked Smart to clarify his point on smartphones and how that relates to coaching in the NFL versus college football, Smart said, "You can put it away. In pro ball they've got all the stuff going with the collective bargaining agreement where you can't do certain things. You can only be out there a certain amount of time. For us, it's non-stop. I've got recruits that will call, text, do certain things in the middle of the night and I'm thinking, 'I'm with my family.' You've got to dedicate time to that or you can't do it."
He continued: "I get a direct message on Twitter, 'Coach I'm coming to Tuscaloosa in a week.' I'm thinking, 'Well, I'm not going to be there. I'm on vacation.' I've got to find somebody that will cover up and spend time with them, because if you don't somebody will. That's the part I say college coaches are always looking to go because if you're not a niche recruiter, as you get older or you get less active as a recruiter, you become less valuable."
All this begs the question: why do it? After three national titles, an entire roster of recruits in the NFL and a bank account full of zeros, how has Alabama continued recruiting like it's January 2007? What keeps the hamster in Smart's head spinning that wheel when a recruit sends a DM at 12:30 at night? Two words: Nick Saban. "Every day you're behind in recruiting with him. We're never ahead. We might think we're ahead but he makes sure we understand that, 'Hey, we're way behind, why aren't we doing this, has this kid been here, how many kids have been here in a five-hour radius, why aren't they here, what's the reason, top players in the country need to get here.' It's constant. And you always feel like it's fourth-and-1."
Smart went on to shed light on Alabama's Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State, saying the Crimson Tide never felt like they had a handle on defending Cardale Jones and company, even with a 21-6 first-half lead in hand. He said Jones's inexperience turned into an advantage because Alabama didn't have tape of him in the running game, and his arm strength surpassed that of Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett, allowing Ohio State to get the ball to its speedy wide receivers - Devin Smith in particular - in ways it hadn't before. "We were leading, but we weren't leading," Smart said. "We had not slowed them down. We had two red area stops which could have been 14, we had a turnover, we stripped the ball, we had not slowed them down. It's 21-6 and I'm thinking it could be 21-21, and then they scored right before the half, which we thought was deadly. They had a good two-minute drive and scored, and I knew we were in trouble." Ohio State scored on three straight possessions over the second and third quarters - driving a combined 223 yards on 24 plays, to turn a 21-6 deficit into a 27-21 lead, and Steve Millers' 41-yard pick six with 3:21 left in the third quarter gave the Buckeyes a 34-21 edge it would not relinquish.
Ever the driver, though, Saban found a way to turn Alabama's upset loss into a building block by bringing in former Ohio State offensive coordinator and current Houston head coach Tom Herman a blow-by-blow tutorial on how he beat Alabama.
"I'll tell you the best thing we did — and I give coach Saban a lot of credit — we went directly to [Herman]. ... We said, 'Hey, we want to meet with you. You know us better than anybody. You spent four weeks getting ready for us. What's our tendencies? What do we do wrong? What do you think? And he was just honest with us. He told us what he thought, and it was very valuable for us."