football Edit

Saban on rivalries with former assistants: 'It's not personal'

Free 30-day free trial subscription to BamaInsider.com!

Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide shakes hands with head coach Kirby Smart of the Georgia Bulldogs after winning the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T in overtime at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo | Getty Images

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It’s been four months since Nick Saban and Kirby Smart shared the same field. Their last meeting was a pretty big one.

Saban walked away with his sixth national title while Smart left heartbroken as Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa completed a 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith on second-and-26 in overtime to give the Crimson Tide a 26-23 victory over Georgia in the national championship game. Smart hasn’t forgotten that feeling, nor will anyone let him — not even during a charity golf tournament in the middle of May.

“Oh, yeah, I heard a few 'second-and-26s,'” the Georgia head coach said Wednesday on the Paul Finebaum Show while participating the Regions Tradition Pro-Am. “We’ll remember those.”

Smart once again competed against his former head coach as he and Saban both participated in the pro-am Wednesday. Smart — who worked under Saban at Alabama from 2007-15, as well as one-year stints with LSU (2004) and the Miami Dolphins (2006) — admitted before the event that golf brings out the competitor in him.

“I’d say the guy two or three behind me is competitive, too,” Smart said, referring to Saban. “I played for him for 10 years. …I didn’t talk back to my boss, I learned better than that a long time ago. But now I can. I just got to improve my game so I can do that.”

Despite their rivalry on the football field — and now the golf course — Saban says he shares a good relationship with Smart as he does with all his former assistants. That list now includes Smart as well as SEC head coaches Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee, Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M and Will Muschamp at South Carolina.

According to Saban, “it’s not personal.”

“I compete against my friends all the time,” Saban said. “Bill Belichick was one of my best friends. We were in the same division when we were in Miami, it didn’t affect our relationship. Kirby’s done a great job for me for a long time, and he’s doing a great job where he is right now. We compete all the time, but it’s not personal. Jeremy Pruitt, it’s not personal, he did a great job for me. It wasn’t personal with [Jim McElwain].

“Those guys call me on occasion and ask for help in situations. From a personal standpoint, we help them as much as we can, so we compete against our friends all the time. It doesn’t have to be personal. We all respect the fact that we’re trying to do the best for our players and the best for our institutions so we can have a successful program.”

Whatever help Saban provides ends when it comes to the football field. He’s never lost to a former assistant during his time at Alabama, boasting a sterling 12-0 record in which he has outscored his former understudies by a total of 453-134.

Nick Saban vs. former assistants
Name Team Record vs. Saban Total score

Mark Dantonio

Michigan State



Derek Dooley




Jimbo Fisher

Florida State



Jim McElwain

Colorado State, Florida



Will Muschamp




Kirby Smart




This season Saban will have a chance to extend his record to at least 15-0 starting with Fisher and Texas A&M on Sept. 22 in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The next week he will host former Alabama receivers coach Billy Napier who is in his first season as the head coach of Louisiana-Lafayette. Saban will get his first meeting against Pruitt on Oct. 20 when the Crimson Tide travels to Knoxville, Tenn. Then there’s the possibility of Saban squaring off against Smart in either the SEC Championship game or College Football Playoff.

It won’t be personal then, either.

Talk with thousands of Alabama fans inside the Talk of Champions Forum