Kirby Smart introduced as UGA football head coach
Kirby Smart was introduced as the new UGA head football coach on Monday at a press conference in Athens.
Smart was officially announced as head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs on Sunday via a press release. He has spent the last nine seasons as the defensive coordinator for Alabama under Nick Saban.
After an opening statement from UGA Director of Athletics Greg McGarity, an emotional Kirby Smart offered a brief statement before taking questions from the media.
Below is a transcript from the press conference via UGA:
I’ve always aspired to be a head coach. Thanks, mom, thanks, dad, for the example you set for me and for so many others. As most of you know, I spent five of the greatest years of my life here in Athens as a student-athlete. As I look throughout this history, very storied historic program, there are several coaches that had a great impact on my life here.
Coach Dooley has meant a lot to me in this community and a great man. Coach Goff, who, God bless him, brought me here. I wasn’t a very good player. Probably the reason he’s not here is because I wasn’t a very good player. And Coach Donnan has been a great asset to me as I’ve grown as a coach.
I’d also like to thank Coach Richt for the opportunity he gave me as an assistant here in 2005, and also for laying a foundation of integrity at this university.
But the most important thanks goes to my best friend, my teammate and partner for life, my wife. She is my rock, and as a coach’s wife, she plays the role of both parents a great deal of time at our home. And the best part, she’s a born and bred Bulldog. From the time I met her, she’s been a Bulldog. We met here in Athens, Georgia, married here in Athens, Georgia, so it is in a sense a homecoming for our family.
Our father Paul is here helping with our three wonderful children, Weston, Julia and Andrew. Without you, MB, none of this would be possible.
Now, a little bit about my vision for the University and our football program. Our student-athletes will represent the University with class and integrity. We will demand that. The greatest satisfaction I’ve received as a coach is going into a 17, 18-year-old’s home and, recruiting that young man, and then watching them walk out the door as a graduate five years later.
We’ll do everything in our power to help these kids be successful as true student-athletes. That student comes first. Although we know these young men will not be perfect, they’ll be held to a higher standard of behavior. Our ultimate goal is to educate students, and we’ll do this the right way, which is the Georgia way. Now about our football team and our brand of football. Our teams will display great mental and physical toughness. We’ll play with great confidence and pride on the field. We’ll work toward this with relentless energy and passion, and I will demand that everyone in the organization does that.
In closing, I’d like to issue a call to action of sorts to the Georgia people. We need to channel our faith, trust, and energy in the same direction to support this team and this university. Thanks again. It’s an honor and privilege to be here before you, and I’ll now take any questions.
Q. Kirby, congratulations. What’s it feel like to you to see your family all in red over here? You got a little emotional earlier about your wife?
COACH SMART: Yeah, it’s a special moment for me being able to see them and see what she’s been through, Mary Beth has been through. The coaching profession is tough on the wives, and she’s done a great job with our children, raised them in a Christian home and that makes me proud. It makes me proud to be back in Athens and be part of this great community. Coach.
Q. Coach, just wondering if you’ve made any progress on preparing your staff now that you’re the head coach at Georgia?
COACH SMART: Absolutely. I knew the staff question would come up. We don’t put a timetable when we make those decisions. It’s a very fluid situation. Constantly moving and changing. I won’t put any timetables on anything. Right now we’re worried about getting on the road, getting recruiting, and trying to assemble staff and talking to as many people as we can.
Q. What was your reasoning? Was there much discussion about leaving Alabama immediately to take over full-time, or what is your plan over the next month?
COACH SMART: First off, both President Morehead and Greg were very supportive of me doing this the right way. It’s very important to me that I finish things the right way over there. A lot of these young men playing for the University of Alabama I sat in their homes three, four, five years ago and convinced them to come to the University of Alabama. And I don’t think it would be doing justice to turn and walk away from those kids.
I think that President Morehead and Greg both supported me fully, continuing to finish that, I’ll at the same time honor my duties here. Regulating your time will be very critical in the next probably month while we get ready for this game, and also recruiting is in an active period right now. So it will be a challenge, but a challenge I’m up to.
Q. When did you feel you were prepared and ready to be a head coach? What uneasiness do you have about stepping into that role?
COACH SMART: I think the growth you get from working at a place like Alabama and with a program under Nick Saban, it helps me immensely. A lot of people have said why not take a smaller school head job? I honestly feel my growth was better being in a large program, being around Coach Saban and learning how to manage a lot of the tough situations you deal with in the media. So for me, the most difficult thing for me is the timing of this and trying to move forward and grow and get the recruiting going.
But as far as the challenges they present, it’s there for every head coach in the country. It’s no different for anybody hitting the ground running. Put your nose to the grindstone and deal with one issue at a time. That’s what we plan to do here as a staff.
Q. Clearly today is an emotional day for you. I can tell you’re really fighting this. My understanding is you’ve had many opportunities over the years. Can you validate that? Why Georgia and why now?
COACH SMART: Well, I don’t think I need to validate the opportunities. To me, the biggest thing is I’ve had opportunities to go places, stayed at Alabama because I thought it was a good place. I waited on a great opportunity which is here at the University of Georgia right now. No better place in the country to be, one of the top programs in the country, top storied programs, very fertile recruiting ground, very supportive administration. So I’m so excited to be here right now and be here before you guys.
Q. Coach, you’re preparing for a national playoff. You’re also catching up with recruiting. Give us an idea what your days are going to be like? And for those one or two recruits that might have been wavering, how do you plan to handle them?
COACH SMART: I’ll be honest with them, that’s the first thing. Be honest with recruits, be up front. There is change going on and change is inevitable. I think it’s really important they understand that, and it’s important they get to know me.
You ask what I’m going to be doing, I’m going to be real busy. I’ve been real busy and I’m going to continue to be busy. But that’s the relentless energy and passion. That’s the reason I am where I am today. I’m going to do that recruiting, I’m going to do it coaching. I’m going to work for the playoff game with the same energy and passion. That’s what I hope to achieve.
Q. A lot has been heard about the process over at Alabama. Without giving away the trade secrets, what are the cornerstones of that? I assume you’ll be implementing a lot of that here at Georgia?
COACH SMART: Yeah, the process is hard work, that’s what it is. It’s hard work through commitment and doing things the right way. A commitment to excellence on the field, off the field, in the classroom, and every social aspect we have for our players. The only way you achieve that is by getting a great organization, a great support staff, surrounding yourself with great people and great coaches. That’s what I hope to do here at the University of Georgia.
Q. Could you just tell us, when you spoke to the team, what your message was to those guys that are in the room?
COACH SMART: Yeah, I spoke to the team last night. I talked to them about the same things I just talked about here, having a commitment to excellence off the field, especially right now studying for finals and making sure they stay committed to the classroom. Finishing this season the right way with a chance to win ten games, which helps in recruiting.
I spoke to those guys about doing the right things off the field. If they can continue to do that, they can be successful. But I talk to them about change. I told them, I guess it was 20 years ago, I sat in the same place they were and had a new coach coming in. The uneasiness about having to prove yourself again and start over sometimes as an upperclassman is tough. I want to be here for them for that. We’re going to challenge them and demand toughness and effort out of every person and every aspect of their life. We’re going to push them harder than they’ve ever been pushed. But I think to be excellent, they have to do that.
Q. The past couple seasons the program has had a couple of setbacks. If you could talk to all of the Bulldog Nation, which you can and are, what would you say to instill confidence that the team will move forward and be in a better place fairly quickly?
COACH SMART: Looking forward, the only thing I can do is look forward. I’ve tried to assemble the best staff possible to go out and get as much depth and good players as we can in recruiting. Make sure those are the right kind of student-athletes that will make right choices and decisions when they get here. Then to get back here in January and get back to the grind assembling this team and making this team the best it can be.
I firmly believe that you can take and develop players and you can show improvement within a team, and we need to do that here.
Q. You left one program with arguably exceedingly high expectations to come to this where they decided to go in a different direction after expectations were not met. You played against this team earlier in the year. How far is your new team away from competing for National Championships?
COACH SMART: That’s not a question that I like to answer, hypotheticals. To answer that would be really difficult to say to put a pinpoint on a time on that. We want to develop a really tough, physical team. We want to get great recruits in here and do it the right way. That’s what’s important to me. Continuing on the foundation of integrity is utmost importance for us here at the University of Georgia.
Q. Coach, what is the single most important element you want to instill in the program right away? What will identify this as a Kirby Smart program?
COACH SMART: Character, toughness, determination, a lot of those factors, relentless effort. That’s what we talk about all the time. That’s what we’re going to sell this program on. Making sure every kid is buying into the team aspect of that. Once you get that, you can achieve every goal you want.
Q. Nick said that you’re as loyal and good as an assistant as he’s ever had. I’m interested in what the meeting was like when you told him this was going to happen and what his initial reaction was when you said you were going to Georgia?
COACH SMART: He was great. His reaction was he’s excited for me. He and I have a great relationship. We spent 11 years together, nine consecutively there at the University of Alabama. He’s been a great mentor for me, and he was very supportive. Said he’ll do anything he can to help me and continue that development. He’s always been supportive. He’s got a lot of guys he’s worked with out there in this profession.
Q. Coach, when Coach Richt left, he talked about he sort of regretted not having more say on the offense. Do you feel like you’ll be more hands on when you get to the defense?
COACH SMART: More hands on than what?
Q. As far as running the defense, not leaving it to assistants.
COACH SMART: Oh, no, I’m hands on with the whole program. I’m going to be involved with everything. I mean, for me, that’s one of the biggest strengths I think I have as a coach is managing the whole thing, being involved in special teams, being involved in the offensive and defensive sides and being involved with coaches. The big thing is making sure everybody’s on the same page. Demand excellence out of everybody and make sure you get that. If you don’t, you’ve got to make a change.
That’s what being a head coach is about, and those are the hard, tough decisions you’ve got to make, and that’s what I’m ready to do.
Q. Coach, following up an earlier question, you came from a place where teams were expected to win titles. There was obviously a high expectation. There was a belief that Alabama was going to be in the hunt every year. I dare say you’re coming to a place where the fan base has been beat up a little bit, haven’t won an SEC title in a while. How difficult is it not just to achieve that level of success, but to get people to believe that Georgia can win big games and have those moments year after year and compete for titles?
COACH SMART: I think you do that day-by-day. W-I-N, what is important now? You build that faith, trust and confidence in your program by what you do with your players. I think first and foremost these players at the University of Georgia have to believe in themselves. We’ve got to do a good job of instilling them with that as a staff.
There is good players here, we’ve got to do a good job with them. We’ve got to improve the depth. We’ve got to improve the quality of the depth throughout the team. Both offensive and defensive lines, skill areas, there is no area here that doesn’t need improvement and depth. But that can be done, and I think it will be done.
Q. You referenced that 2005 season in your opening remarks. What did you take from that season specifically here in Athens, if anything, that you brought with through the rest of your coaching career?
COACH SMART: Yeah, that’s a unique question because that year I was the running backs coach. It was a unique year for me because I was coaching on the opposite side of the ball. I still think that was one of the greatest learning experiences for me. To this day, I still use thoughts on defense that I learned from being with Mike Bobo and the offensive staff, Neil Callaway here at the University of Georgia that helped me become a better coach.
So I advise every young coach, you can spin over to the other side of the ball as a graduate assistant or another position coach, you do that, because that helped me grow in 2005 to be on that side of the ball. There were a lot of great players here that year, and it was a fun group to coach at running back. We had a lot of good players in there.
Q. I guess in regards to recruiting this week, have you had much conversations with Brian Bryan McClendon about the type of player that Georgia’s been targeting? How do you plan on handling the dynamics of approaching and targeting and going after the kids that you want?
COACH SMART: Say that one more time?
Q. How do you plan to handle the dynamics of getting out to the kids you want to see this week?
COACH SMART: The dynamics of handling, I’m going from here to go out and start recruiting and use every minute I have of this contact period, in fact I’m ready to go right now to see some guys. I’ve got to go see them. I’ve only got so long to go see them and then it gets dead again and we go back to work on our bowl games and bowl preps. So we have a detailed list of people we’re going to see and attack and see them one last time before it goes quiet again.
Q. Following up on that, before you have a break of practice with Michigan State for about a week where you’re sort of so to speak full-time Georgia. How long will that be?
COACH SMART: It’s not set yet. It’s probably until Monday, Tuesday of next week when we start bowl practice. I think University of Georgia, Bryan McClendon and them are starting around the same time we are. So I’ll head back over to Tuscaloosa to start bowl prep with them. Even while I’m over there, I’ve got a lot of good mentors in this business, and one guy I want to thank is Dan Quinn of the Falcons. He called and said, hey, look, if there is anyway I can help you, I went through a similar process when he was with the Seahawks and also trying to take over the Falcons. He talked about time management and managing your time the right way. Spending every free moment you have and having people help you. I’ve got a great organization and support structure here in place to help me time-wise to have calls set up and ways for me to manage it better and utilize that time to be fair to both places.
Q. We know what you’ve done defensively. Can you give us your offensive philosophy? Are you going to install an offense that’s tough for you to defend against or do you have a plan in place?
COACH SMART: Well, I think a lot of offenses, we’ve tried to defend have been difficult. The media would say that the spread teams are Alabama Kryptonite, but I would argue it could go either way. I think offensively, you have to have balance. You want to be able to run the football and throw the football. It’s proven overtime that if you’re one dimensional, you’ll eventually get stopped.
So to have balance, you’ve got to have good depth on the offensive line, especially in this conference. You have to have big, grown men that need lots of depth, because it’s hard to get through it without having injuries. But we want to make explosive plays on offense, which means you have to have good skill people.
To me, you have to recruit great skill people. They’re here in the State. They’re here within a five-hour radius. You’ve got to go get them and get them in your program so you can make explosive plays. I think that was lacking in somewhat last year here on this team. The perimeter guys, you want to be able to make explosive guys.
So to do that, you’ve got to be great on third down on offense. So those three target areas you have to have. Now to say are you going to be spread or are you going to be pro? I don’t think you can pigeon hole yourself into that. I like to think you’ve got to be both in both situations. You’ve got to utilize the talent you have on your team. What kind of players do you have on your team? What does it set up to be successful? Do you have a lot of good tight ends? Do you have a lot of good backs how about using those guys? You get the best players the ball. I’ve learned that from the coaches I’ve worked for. They’ve been the most successful when the good players got the ball. So you need to go get good practice players and get them the ball. That’s what we plan to do.
Q. Have you talked with Mike at all? Did he congratulate you? Have you discussed anything with Will here lately?
COACH SMART: Yeah, obviously Mike, I guess it was announced yesterday, text me and called me. We’re close friends, family friends, kind of grew up together. His dad’s a high school coach as well as mine. Mike’s been very supportive of me. Been very helpful talking to and bouncing ideas off of. It was the same way last year with him. He used me as a resource, and we used each other because we both have different networks.
Will, I’ve on talked to Will. We’re good friends, I’m happy for Will and happy for his family.
Q. As a follow up why to that with Will being named at South Carolina, and Missouri promoting Barry Odom, you have five coaches in the east now with defensive backgrounds where five years ago it was overwhelmingly offensive. Why do you think it’s trended so sharply in that direction?
COACH SMART: I don’t know if it’s that — it is that way the East, obviously, you just gave that information. But for me it’s just how it happened. It’s what kind of people you are, what kind of person you are. It just so happened that way. It could change in four years and go back the other way. Obviously there’s been a large trend towards offensive coaches as well. It goes highs and lows, ebbs and flows, who is stopping who and who is doing well.
For the most part I’ve always thought of the SEC as a defensive league. The highest ranked offensive statistical group. We might be 33rd in the country out of our conference where there are a lot of tough defenses. It’s a tough, physical league. So you want to play good defense. Historically, the teams with the best defense have been near the top of the conference. So I think that’s important to a trademark to have a good program in an SEC Championship is good defense.
Q. Have you been, in terms of staff and everything, have you been given any kind of limitations or restrictions? You can’t have this guy, you can’t have that guy? Is it totally up to you?
COACH SMART: Absolutely not. They’ve been totally supportive of any decision I want to make, and that’s the way it should be. I also want to mention I see Mark Fox out there. I appreciate him reaching out to me today. He’s been a great asset to me already. I look forward to meeting him and visiting with him.
Q. In the interest of continuity with the program, players, is there interest in holding over some staff members from the previous regime?
COACH SMART: I don’t want to put a timetable or any speculation. That’s really unfair to those coaches and their families. There will be consideration there, obviously, but I do think it’s very important that I hire my staff and put my staff in place.
Q. When you follow a long-term coach that’s had relative success at a university, do you feel a certain pressure to deliver a higher level of expectation right away?
COACH SMART: No greater pressure than I put on my self, I can promise you that. That’s the way it should be. You put pressure on yourself and you demand excellence from everybody in your organization. We’re going to go out there and have the intent to win in every game we play.