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Georgia Football

Georgia Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart: I don't remember much about 2017 anymore

January 9, 2022

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INDIANAPOLIS - Georgia Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart talks at length before the Dawgs take on No. 1 Alabama for the national title Monday night.

COACH SMART: I'd like to thank the host city of Indianapolis. Since our arrival they've been tremendous. I know the people staying over with us over at the Westin Hotel have been incredible. They've done a great job of accommodating and making sure that the players have something to do when there's a little down time. And they've done just a wonderful job. What a great venue.

I'd like to thank and tell our team and our staff and really our entire university what a tremendous job they've done supporting our players. And our players have done a tremendous job buying in. It makes for a long season when you play the extra championship game, semifinal game. And everybody's got to buy into that. And everybody's got to understand the importance of you've got to play your best at the end. And that's what we've been climbing, trying to do.

Also I'd like to congratulate Coach Saban and their team. They've done a tremendous job. We've gotten to see them once already and know how good they are. They really do not have weaknesses across the board. They're playing really, really good football right now. And it should be a tremendous challenge for our team tomorrow night.

Q. Kirby, when you came to Georgia, did you have in your mind, in any way: I have seen what they have built at Alabama and I believe we can build something equal to it here at Georgia?

COACH SMART: My biggest goal was to be successful when I came to Georgia. When you take on your first head coaching job, I was very fortunate to work under some really good head coaches, the likes of Coach Saban, Coach Bowden, Coach Richt and my father. And a lot of those people impacted me.

But as far as the way we organize and run the program, most of that came from my time spent with Coach Saban. There was a year at LSU, a year at Dolphins. You take a lot of things from the places you come from in your history. That's certainly helped shape me as a coach.

The goal was to have a successful program. And the state of Georgia and the high school coaches and the support you get in the state of Georgia for football makes it a very fertile area. And you're always going to have a good recruiting base. And we've been able to have that.

If you recruit well, have good coaches, have good development, good strength program you're going to have a chance at success. And that was certainly the goal from the outset.

Q. Wondered what both coaches thought of the transfer portal, the future of it and how it's being used.

COACH SMART: Much the same. I think it's a hard time to be thinking about it when you're getting ready to play for a national championship. It's certainly the furthest thing from your mind.

But it does make you think hard about the kind of kids you recruit and what their beliefs are and what their goals are and how they get there.

I think a lot of what you look at when you recruit now is what is the history of the student-athlete, and you're trying to put a likelihood of when things get tough, because they will get tough, they will get tough in college athletics. Your time demands, practice demands, competitive demands will get tough. How will they respond?

We try to spend a lot of time looking at that because some of the portal is out of our control in terms of the decisions that players make. We try to be fair and honest with our players, and if they're not ready to play then we communicate that to them.

But each and every player is different and each situation is different. And it's certainly tough to navigate during this day and age of an early signing period on top of that.

Q. Kirby, how do you think you've changed as a coach running your program from 2017 when you played Alabama for the national title to now in your 60s and you have another shot tomorrow night?

COACH SMART: I don't know. I don't know how much I've changed it's hard to take a snapshot. I don't remember much about 2017 anymore. It's amazing how fast these years go by and time goes by.

I think I've got a staff of great coaches and I've got an organization that's full of good leaders. And trust in those people maybe more now than in 2017 when I felt like I needed to micromanage and be over the top of everything. Probably now a little more comfortable delegating things out and trusting people to do their jobs and maybe imparting a little bit of their personality into their parts of the organization.

And letting them grow within that organization because a lot of the people in the organization aspire to go and do things. And I want them to be successful because they stopped at Georgia. That's probably the biggest difference. But the core beliefs and the way we do things, they haven't changed much.

Q. Given the history between you guys, although to be on opposite sides of the field on Monday, how special is it to be sharing this Monday against one another?

COACH SMART: It's a great honor to be across from Coach Saban and the tremendous job he's done, but it's probably nothing unusual for him to be in this game because he's been in this game an awful lot. And I know he doesn't take that for granted because I know the work and effort he puts into it to get his team here.

I've been able to see that. I've been a part of that. I also know the work and effort we've put in to get to this point. It is no easy job to get to this point in the season through the SEC gauntlet, through the championship game, through the semifinals. It's a tough rigorous season.

So to be in this position is certainly an honor. To be across from Coach, it's a tremendous honor for our team and our organization. But, like we've always said, it's not about he and I; it's about the players and their opportunities to go out and be successful and make a lasting memory.

Q. Kirby, what's the biggest area of growth that maybe we don't see that you feel your team has made the most improvement in?

COACH SMART: I don't know. I've certainly been really proud of the way our team has responded, especially early in the season, to success. As a coach, you're always worried about that. I was really worried about the consistency in performance because that's usually what gets us. At least in the past we've had a game that we didn't play real well.

We played really well throughout the year, played consistent. We didn't have a lot of let-downs. And we played the best team we've played this year in the SEC Championship. And it was a great matchup that they won most of those matchups, you look across the board.

We've been trying to improve in areas since that game so that we can be at our best when our best is needed. A lot of people talk about this and that, about the SEC Championship game, but at the end of the day we played a really good football team and they won more matchups than we did.

So we've harped on improving in a lot of areas. Certainly got to do a much better job in third down, red zone, in forcing turnovers. But throughout the season, I think we've gotten a lot better across the board.

Probably the biggest area of jump would be offensively in the skill players because we had so many guys out throughout the season. It was good to have those guys back in the last month.

Q. Kirby, Alabama obviously kind of threw the ball over you guys in the first game, and then in the playoff semifinals turned on a dime and ran the ball for over 300 yards. How difficult is it and what's the challenge in preparing for a team that can turn on a dime like that can do really anything on offense?

COACH SMART: That's the ultimate challenge. When you look across the board at the efficiency with which Bryce Young has played with, and he's got good weapons around him, he's got a really good team around him, but make no mistake about it, he is elite at what he does. To have the number of touchdown passes, the interception ratio, I don't know that I've ever seen really anything like it.

And we talk about him as Houdini, because he can people miss. He gets rid of the ball. People don't even account the number of times this guy has avoided sacks and thrown the ball with no intention of anybody catching it. But he knows where to throw the ball to not take a sack. When you can do that you're really elite.

They've got really good skilled players on the outside. They know how to use those skill players. They put them in different positions, change things up.

Brian Robinson, seems like he's been there for 100 years because when I was there before I remember him being in high school. And he is a physical -- runs with purpose, intent, a traditional Alabama back, really physical, down hill runner.

And they do a good job, especially against Cincinnati of committing to the run. It's a double-edged sword. You do too much of this, they can hurt you. They're certainly physical up front. They always have been. All Coach Saban's teams have been that way.

But make no mistake about it, they can be really explosive on the outside. That's the advantage they've probably had the last three to four years is the number of wideouts that are just explosive, great playmakers. And it's changed mostly the game of football, not just Alabama. But you can actually win the line of scrimmage and you could possibly loose the game because of and explosive plays. And that's what you've got to be careful of.

Q. Kirby, it's been so long since Georgia has been able to cross this finish line, have been in this race a bunch, but haven't been able to cross this finish line, 41 years. I was wondering, you personally, obviously being a Georgia guy, how much of that do you feel, do you hear? I know it doesn't have anything to do with what you're doing preparing day to day, but do you feel that from the donors and the people who just want it so bad for the program?

COACH SMART: No, I do not. What I feel is how do we stop Bryce Young and how do we control their front and how do we run the ball, how do we throw the ball with efficiency, how do we convert third downs and stop them in the red area. That's the furthest from my concern because I don't all in all control that.

What I control is who we recruit, how we develop players, how we keep people in our program, and then how we do scheme-wise and things. Because if you do that right, the other will take care of itself. But my focus and energy and entire mind is on what can we do to help our players play better.

Q. Kirby, I know you have high expectations for all your young men. I'm curious who you think is the one individual who developed the most, the biggest growth from the Clemson game to today?

COACH SMART: It's a hard question to answer because so many kids have grown up. It might not even be a guy in the limelight because a lot of these young kids that come in, they grow up a lot over the course of a season.

So I really can't just pick one guy to say this guy has grown the most, but I'm certainly proud of all the guys on our team. I'm really proud of the support they give each other because of all the teams I've had, this one is probably the most connected in terms of an appreciation for what each other does, across-the-board complementary football, they really embrace each other, offense, defense, special teams units.


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