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What's the Deal With the LSU Defensive Coordinator Search?

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

LSU Defensive Coordinator Crisis Day 12 saw one of the biggest surprises yet with the word that LSU and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart spoken about the job. A surprise? Sure. Smart was a name that Paul and I bandied about on Friday as the rumors got fast and furious based off of word from some sources and a radio report from Charles Hanagriff about a big name expressing interest. Hanny explained himself Monday afternoon and said that yes, Smart was the person he was talking about:

Now that his name is out there, I'll confirm the guy I was referencing on Friday was Kriby Smart. The reason I had to protect my source was that I was told his name getting out could be a deal breaker, or at the very least Alabama would counter and drive up the price.

The reason he is interested in the job is allegedly he feels like he won't get any credit as long as he is on Saban's staff,and he needs to branch out on his own. He got almost no interest in any openings this year, and Miles would let him run the defense at LSU. He allegedly feels like McIlwain and Muschamp both got increased interest as soon as they left Saban's staff, and that this would be his best route to a head job. That's why he would consider a lateral move.

I continue to be told that no deal is done with anybody.

So what's this mean? Who knows. Do I believe that a lot of coaches have expressed interest in LSU's job? Absolutely. LSU is a big-time program that's willing to pay top dollar. What I do not know is how many of those candidates have reciprocated interest from LSU.

For Smart's interest, I would imagine the reasoning is similar to what Hanagriff says. If you want to know why most people will list Muschamp ahead of Smart when ranking coordinators, it's because he's built great units at three other schools where he didn't have Nick Saban looking over his shoulder. And while it's not really fair to Smart suggesting that he isn't responsible for his own defenses, we ultimately know that the head coach he works for is a defensive coach, and a very hands-on one at that. So it raises questions that we'll never know the answers to unless Smart runs a defense without Saban around. Could the leaking of this information be Smart angling for a raise? Possible, but he was already the second-highest-paid coordinator in the country last year. Yeah, Muschamp and John Chavis have passed him up on that list, but is it really worth it to get a raise of a couple hundred grand? Smart would have to answer that one. Of course, he is a Jimmy Sexton client.

Paul outlined what we do know about Smart. He's a dynamic recruiter and a piece of a coaching staff that Saban clearly finds valuable. He's followed Alabama's head coach from LSU to Miami and from Miami to Tuscaloosa. It would certainly be a case of winning the press conference. You won't find a sitting coordinator anywhere in the country that can match Smart's success level since he took the job in 2009, and there aren't many with a higher profile. But as we're fond of saying in these parts, winning the press conference isn't winning the hire.

But at this point, I don't know that there is a candidate available without some sort of question mark. Popular names like Bob Shoop and Clancy Pendergast both brought recruiting questions. I was more on board with the idea of promoting Brick Haley (and subsequently hiring Ed Orgeron) than most, but I still readily acknowledge the risks. Even with NFL guys there's no guarantee. Hell, hiring Cam Cameron seemed like an alley-oop slam-dunk, and two years in we're certainly questioning that.

Still, as of this writing, no decision has been made, and if the radio reports from the weekend are to be believed, Miles is still willing to wait, even beyond the end of the recruiting dead period. The weekend of Jan. 23 will be when LSU is hosting its biggest defensive recruits, and Miles would certainly like to have things settled by then. But it doesn't seem like he's going to push to have everything done by tomorrow just for the sake of having it done. The timing isn't all that unusual for Miles. He took his sweet time naming Bo Pelini as his first defensive coordinator, and there was a couple of weeks of speculation and a few other names mentioned, before Chavis came on in 2009. I can very clearly remember names like Vic Koening and DeWayne Walker surfacing at different points, with at least one of the major paysites reporting that they'd each get the job. Things can move quickly and change even quicker in these searches.

The easy inference from that is that there are possible coaches that are still working, i.e., for teams currently in the NFL playoffs. I'm told that there have been conversations there, along with some other NFL guys that aren't in the playoffs either, but would appreciate LSU's discretion. With college coordinator salaries on the rise, the idea of making the move is becoming more attractive for some NFL guys. Yeah, the hours are longer, there isn't quite as much freedom and room for game-planning and there's more pressure with all of the emphasis on recruiting, but with the benefit of increased control over the players you actually get to coach. There's no front office picking out the handful of guys the team can afford and fit under the salary cap.

Who are some of these possible NFL coaches? We know that Chicago DC Mel Tucker has expressed interest, along with Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke. Other possibilities? Just spit-balling here, but Minnesota Vikings coordinator George Edwards has experience with Miles and Cameron, and was rumored as a possible candidate in 2009. San Francisco's Vic Fangio would make some sense as well. Among the playoff teams, Ron Zook made some sense, but has been shot down. Among the Seattle coaching staff, assistants Rocky Seto and Ken Norton, Jr. both had a lot of success with Pete Carroll at USC. Coordinator Dan Quinn would absolutely be a home run, but he's going to have a chance at some NFL head jobs, so it seems unlikely that he'd make the lateral move now. Other guys with some ties to Miles or the SEC include Green Bay defensive line coach Mike Trgovac and New England assistant Brendan Daly. Yeah, the coaches still in the playoffs wouldn't be able to work in official capacity until after the Super Bowl if they get that far, but the open week between the conference title games would be fair game for an announcement. Jim Schwartz, rumored to be on the outs in Buffalo, is certainly a name I would wait on if he asked for a week to figure out his situation, but he's a guy that will also have NFL options.

Of course, there's always the possibility of just promoting Haley. And while I still don't think that's the worst course of action for LSU at all, for it to happen after all these weeks and multiple names floated out -- even names like Mike Stoops that were never serious -- it would be a pretty tough sell to the fan base, even with the added juice of BeBe Orgeron. With all the secrecy, there's just no way the move would be seen as anything other than LSU settling for a coach because nobody else wanted the job. Whether that's true or not.

But then, if there's ever been a coach that cared more about substance over style, it's been Les Miles. Anything can happen.