ATLANTA — If any doubt remained that Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is leaving the team to become Georgia’s next head coach after this season, it disappeared when Nick Saban’s eyes watered up on Friday afternoon.
Saban, who declared on Wednesday that he would no longer answer Smart-related questions, answered two more on the eve of the SEC championship game.
“We’ve worked together for a long, long time,” he said before pausing for several seconds to collect himself. “He’s as good of an assistant coach and as loyal of an assistant coach as I’ve ever had on my staff.”
The room noticed Saban’s voice was catching and his eyes were welling up.
“It sounds like it’s bringing up some emotion,” one reporter said. “Can you talk about your relationship with him and what brings up that emotion?”
“People that work together on staff for a long time, it’s like part of your family,” he said. “We’re kind of bigamist as coaches. We’re married. We have families. But we’re also married to our job.
“You have a family there, too. So you do develop relationships and you do care about these people and you care about their families. You care about their well-being. You understand their goals and aspirations.”
Saban did not directly admit that Smart — who’s coached at Alabama since 2007 — is headed to Georgia, but he closed the topic with something close to an admission.
“I’m always happy to see anyone on our staff who’s done a great job for us get the opportunity that they’ve worked so hard for,” he said.