Hoover, Ala. – In his first SEC Media Day appearance, freed from the windowless, soundproof room where Nick Saban keeps his assistants, new Georgia coach Kirby Smart on Tuesday showed a solid grasp for the fundamentals of this ritual.
Like any good head coach, Smart did not give the faintest clue as to who was going to be his quarterback going into that first game against North Carolina. He clearly displayed the ability to turn a mere roster into a secret of nuclear launch-code proportions.
Not surprisingly, in the battle between experience (Greyson Lambert/Brice Ramsey) and raw ability (freshman Jacob Eason), Smart said he would side with “the young man out there who gives the best opportunity to win football games.” Good to know that he has not come to his new job with the idea of starting someone based on eye color, hygiene or how doggone hard the candidate tries.
Much like Saban, his employer at Alabama for nine years before he left to replace Mark Richt in December, Smart began his mass media session with a long introductory statement. Savvy move. That leaves less time for annoying questions.
Unlike Saban, he did not anywhere in his presentation get the least bit preachy or sanctimonious. That’s something Smart really will have to work on in the future.
Never has a coach come to one of these things and admitted, “You, know, our kids have been really fat and lazy this summer.” Smart was no exception. “These kids have come to work,” he announced.
And on the topic of his long-serving predecessor, and winning the loyalty of a locker room after taking over for Richt, Smart showed some real political chops.
“First I would like to say coach Richt is a good friend of mine. I respect coach Richt and worked for him for a year and respect the man he is and respect what he stands for. I don't think it's a competition between coach Richt and me to win over this team. I think you earn that by the way you behave and the way you perform. Every kid I've been around as a football player, they want their coaches to make them better as men and as players,” Smart said.
He wasn’t done there.
“If they see value in you as a coach that you can create value in them as a player and a person, they respect that. And it's not a competition between him and me to win the team over. That's never what it has been about. I've got a lot of respect for coach Richt. He's reached out to me, and we've had communication. I think he's going to do a great job at University of Miami. Our team has moved forward. Our team is focused on this season and not looking in the rearview mirror.”
At one point, when talking to a smaller gathering about the over-blown nature of recruiting rankings, there was one subtle shot at the way Georgia’s previous regime operated. If you really listened hard enough.
“The proof (of a recruiting class’s merit) is when they get there and what they do,” he said. “I don’t get caught up in where we are, who we have, I really don’t. ... My job is to make sure they understand they’ve got to play good, they have to produce on the field to be players. That’s the part we got to change at the University of Georgia – to excel on the field with what we bring in and not just excel at recruiting and just have a top-10 class. I don’t think that does anything for you until you produce on the field.”
Overall, for someone never before in this position, Smart delivered, well, smartly. With time, I’m sure he’ll get a little more relaxed in the company of so many distinguished typists and professional talkers. Maybe even crack the occasional joke. And certainly appear more generally imperious, in the classic mold of the big-time southern college football coach.
Grading Smart’s first SEC Media Day: Solid B.
Now on to the rather more pressing matter of SEC game day.