- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, the architect of the Crimson Tide's top-rated defense, has withdrawn from consideration for Southern Mississippi's head coaching vacancy after interviewing with Golden Eagles officials in Atlanta on Thursday, sources close to the situation told ESPN.com on Friday night.
Smart, who is in his fourth season as Alabama's defensive coordinator, was considered the front-runner to replace Larry Fedora, who is leaving to become coach at North Carolina.
Smart, 35, has two years left on a contract at Alabama that pays him $850,000 annually. He was reportedly a candidate for coaching vacancies at Ole Miss and Texas A&M, but sources told ESPN.com that Smart never had contact with either school.
Smart, who won the 2009 Broyles Award as the country's top assistant coach, has guided an Alabama defense that ranks No. 1 nationally in total defense (191.2 yards per game), scoring defense (8.8 points), rushing defense (74.9 yards), pass-efficiency defense (83.9 rating) and pass defense (116.3 yards).
South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, Murray State head coach Chris Hatcher, and Southern Miss offensive coordinator Blake Anderson also have interviewed for the vacancy, sources told ESPN.com. Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken also is considered a top candidate for the job.
The No. 2 Crimson Tide play No. 1 LSU in the Jan. 9 Allstate BCS National Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Smart helped guide the Crimson Tide to a BCS national championship in 2009, defeating Texas 37-21 in the BCS national championship game.
Alabama coach Nick Saban was in danger of losing both his coordinator before Smart withdrew from consideration for the Southern Miss job. Offensive coordinator Jim McElwain was named Colorado State's coach earlier this week; McElwain will remain with the Crimson Tide through the BCS title game.
Fedora, who guided Southern Miss to an 11-2 record and Conference USA title this season, will coach the Golden Eagles against Nevada in the Dec. 24 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
Mark Schlabach covers college football for ESPN.com.
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