TUSCALOOSA _ Although they coach on opposite sides of the ball, it turns out that no one at the University of Alabama may have been happier to see defensive coordinator Kirby Smart return for this season than Jim McElwain.
"He's been with coach longer so he can kind of head off some of the things that are coming for me," the offensive coordinator joked Sunday. "Believe me, that is huge."
McElwain make the wisecrack during Alabama's annual Media Day, the only time outside of the postseason that coordinators are made available to reporters. Although both were linked to head coaching opportunities during the offseason, Nick Saban only needed to replace one assistant, interior linebackers coach James Willis, who became Tommy Tuberville's defensive coordinator at Texas Tech.
"I think we have a really good coaching staff, and we have a really good chain of command," Saban said about the staff continuity. "That starts with leadership and there are varying levels of leadership throughout the organization. Obviously when you have really good people who are in charge of something, and they go carry out the principles and values of the organization in a really positive way it doesn't create any conflicts in the organization. Everybody's on the same page and has the same goal in mind.
"Kirby and Jim McElwain have both done a fantastic job."
After winning the Frank Broyles Award as assistant coach of the year, Smart was offered the same position at his alma mater, Georgia, where Mark Richt had fired coordinator Willie Martinez. The Bulldogs also offered a substantial raise, but when Alabama matched the $750,000 offer he stayed on the Capstone.
"The University of Georgia has a special place in my heart," Smart said. "But I have a great opportunity here. Coach Saban has been very good to me in the six years I've worked for him. I learned a lot of football from him. Right now there are a lot of kids on this team that I helped recruit, I feel very loyal to those guys and I'm very excited about the opportunity here.
"Ultimately it's a family decision and a business decision, and that's what it came down to."
Both coaches could be hot commodities after this season, especially if the Crimson Tide has another big season.
"I think the biggest thing is that no one really wanted me," McElwain also joked, but added that he does hope to eventually become a head coach ("and see if I can screw it up.")
Safety Kendall Kelly will be out for several days after having some "heat issues" and dizziness Thursday evening. "Until we can identify what the problem is we're probably not going to let him practice for a while," Saban said.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick revealed that his torn labrum that required surgery was from trying to tackle Mark Ingram during A-Day.
But he made time for the White House
Although he's about to be in a documentary, an ESPN all-access special and shot commercials for Nike and College GameDay, Saban made a point to not overload his schedule like he did after winning the national championship at LSU.
"I think I was probably a little more guarded this year relative to things that I allow myself to do," he said. "I remember after 2000 I was totally almost burned out in the offseason in the things that I did, whether it was speaking or whatever it was, because of all the demands and requests. But this year even though the demands and requests were there I sort of said, 'I'm standing pat, this is the hand, how many times I speak, this is how many (Crimson) Caravans I do, and that's not changing. We're not going beyond that."
Saban's focus, he said, was to make the offseason like any other, as much as possible.
Fan Day practice
Ingram didn't make it back from his grandfather's funeral in Michigan in time for practice, as expected.
Brian Motley and Alfred McCullough continued to work on the second-unit at left guard and tackle, respectfully.
Lining up as the star defensive back spot were DeMarcus Milliner followed by DeQuan Menzie.
Leading players through stretching (usually the role of the game captains) were Greg McElroy, Luther Davis and Julio Jones.
The loudest ovation from fans went to true freshman kicker Cade Foster for putting two kickoffs into the end zone. Alabama lined up a bunch of players for kick returns, even Blake Sims who also took more snaps at quarterback.
School officials estimated there were 5,000 fans in the stands with another 2,000-plus strictly in line for autographs circling around Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Although Mgoblog, which follows Michigan, reported that the Wolverines and Crimson Tide are discussing a neutral-site game at Dallas in 2012, Alabama sources indicate that the two sides are not close to signing the contract.
Players had a long day as in addition to Fan Day it was Media Day as well. The temperature was 95 degrees during practice with a heat index of 105.
Alabama enters its toughest stretch of the spring this week with two two-a-days on Tuesday and Thursday and the first scrimmage of fall on Saturday. Monday's practice will be at 2:30 p.m. All practices are closed to the public.