Smart discusses Sugar Bowl and Signing Day
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Smart discusses Sugar Bowl and Signing Day

Kirby Smart
Photo: Chamberlain Smith/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. —  University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart talked with media regarding the 2020 early signing period and the upcoming Allstate Sugar Bowl against Baylor during a press conference on Wednesday.

He offered the following comments.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“I’ll open with excited for an opportunity to play Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. I haven’t gotten to address that other than the media teleconferences we had. We’re four practices in, and we’ve got a lot of respect for this team. When you watch them on tape, they really play hard, toughness, competitive. I think Coach (Matt) Rhule does a tremendous job. The turnaround he’s been able to do there is incredible. They’ve played in a lot of really tough games this year, got a lot of respect for their conference, having played Texas from their conference last year, and they do a fabulous job.

Our guys, we really just kind of started on them specifically today, but we’ve had three or four practices that were more fundamental based, and the coaches have been working towards getting ready for Baylor. So excited about the opportunity to play those guys, and I know our players are too.

Next thing would be Signing Day today, which is kind of a weird timing for everything because we’ve still got the February signing date coming up, but we were able to address a lot of our needs today. I really feel like, when you talk about wide receiver and you talk about offensive line, what we’ve got leaving and what we need on our roster, we were able to attack some of those areas and still have work left to be done hopefully in both those areas.

We’ve got a really good strong group. We’ve got some really strong academic kids, which matters a lot to me at this university, and some great competitors. A couple guys, I think four guys played for state championships. Two guys won state championships. I’m really excited about this class. It’s not completely done yet, but obviously, a lot of the pieces are in place. With that, I’ll open it up.”

On if he had interest in Mike Bobo and thoughts on the offensive coordinator position … 

“Yeah, I talk to Mike often, and we’re really good friends. But as far as any conversation about coming to coach at the University of Georgia, no. He and I conversed about what he was going to do when he was let go, but that was during the week of the LSU game. As far as any other changes or anything like that, that’s decided after the bowl game, after we look back at the whole year. We’re working really hard right now on Baylor, on giving our kids an opportunity to play, and that’s really where our focus is.”

On the wide receiver signees … 

“Yeah. I’m not allowed to comment on anyone but the guys that have the paperwork in, but really excited about those guys. We’ve been excited about Justin (Robinson) for a long time. Marcus (Rosemy) too. They both came to our camp over the summer and were as competitive of kids as you’ve seen out there in one-on-ones, and both of them had good senior years, and both of them won state championships. Arian’s a kid who’s got a lot of speed. It’s pretty obvious he can run fast. He wants to be able to run track here, which we’ve been very open to and had success with Mecole doing that, so that was a big selling point for him. We had a lot of other kids join us today that we think are going to help us.”

On wide receiver signees Marcus Rosemy and Arian Smith … 

“Yeah, I don’t know if Arian would say he’s South Florida. He’s the Lakeland area, which to those kids is not really all the way down in South Florida. But I think Coach (Cortez) Hankton did a tremendous job with Marcus and his family. We’ve got great relationships at that high school. Jason Taylor is a coach there, a guy that I was with at the Dolphins, Coach Harriet and Coach Coley have had great relationships for a long time. Those relationships help, but ultimately Georgia sells those kids on coming here. When they come up on visits, when they come up and see the place, the academics, coming to camp the relationships that are formed have been big on commits. And those wideouts know that we have a need. They know they have an opportunity to play.”

On quarterback signee Carson Beck and conversations with Jake Fromm regarding coming back … 

“Yeah, start with Carson. Excited as I can be. This guy’s come to camp since maybe his ninth grade year to our place, has grown up and gotten better with each and every year. He came this summer, hung out with our guys. Can’t say enough about Carson and his family, the competitive nature that’s inside him. He’s been a winner. He won a state championship last year at Mandarin, which has probably never been done before, I think at their school. So he led those guys to that and did a great job.

As far as any others, we’re looking for all positions. We’ve got some spots left, and we’re looking at every position out there to sign best available players. And at that second signing, quarterback is not out of question, but it’s not necessarily something we have to do.

As far as Jake, we do with Jake exactly what we do with every player on our team. We bring him in. We talk to teams. I talk to general managers. I talk to organizations. We get information. We give those kids that information. This is a time when they’re able to do that, and then when we get closer to the Bowl game, we put it away, and then we come back and revisit it, and we’ve done those things for Jake.”

On if he expects D’Andre Swift, James Cook, Brian Herrien and Prather Hudson to play in Sugar Bowl … 

“All that is still to be determined. All those guys healthy right now. Swift is recovering from his injury, but he’s out there practicing, and he’s doing everything we ask.”

On if James Cook will receive any additional punishment and any other news on players not playing in the Sugar Bowl … 

“With Cook, it will start with the internal discipline we have, and as far as anybody else, we’re still gathering information as far as anything grade-wise, any of the stuff we would have, we’re still gathering all of that from school.”

On running back signee Kendall Milton and if Carson Beck will join the team for bowl practice … 

“Yeah, we’re hoping to get Carson here for Bowl practice as soon as possible. Kendall, on the other hand, I think was attracted to the fact that he knew he had the potential of two guys leaving with Herrien being a graduate and being a senior, and then with the likelihood of Swift possibly coming out, he’s sitting there going, you know what, there’s an opportunity there. I think any time, when you look at it as a running back and you say they could be losing two guys, very similar to years past when we had Sony and Nick, you’re always exploring those options, and we certainly felt that Kendall comes from a really strong family. Dell formed a great relationship with their family, and they came and visited all the schools across the Southeast and really liked what Georgia had to offer.

I’m super pleased to get him. He was one of our leaders in the class, and I’m excited about what he’s going to bring to the table.”

On what Matt Luke brings to his staff … 

“We were really fortunate and excited to get him. The minute that I found out about Sam (Pittman), he’s the first guy that came to my mind and wanted to visit with, I’ve had a lot of respect for the job he’s done, everywhere he’s been from the years he was at Duke. He kind of came up under Coach (David) Cutcliffe and played for him and has been a good friend of mine for a long time. Got a lot of respect for what he does, how he does it. I’ve been in SEC meetings now with him for a while. Very sharp, very intelligent guy. That’s kind of come to the realization on the road. When you go into home with him, he’s got command. He’s got presence. Kids like him. His team there, all the guys on their team loved him as a head coach. To do what he’s done in the short amount of time he’s done it is pretty remarkable because it was a tough timing situation.

So happy for Sam and Jamie and the opportunity they’ve gotten. He’s come in, Matt’s come in and put the Band-Aid on the bleeding and done a tremendous job and turned those three guys around pretty quick. We’ll continue to recruit the others.”

On reflecting on the offense and the philosophy and scheme… 

“Yes. We’ve looked at it. But we want to score points. I mean, you guys want a simple answer like it’s just going to poof and happen. It’s all philosophy. It’s all the plays that are called and the play designs. It’s not everything. There’s a lot of things that go into having a successful offense, and we need to be better. I think everybody acknowledges that. And that’s what we’re working on really hard.”

On the impact of Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson declaring for the NFL on recruiting and the Sugar Bowl against Baylor…
“Any time you lose two, one — probably the first round pick, one potential first round pick, it’s tough, right? Those kids have an opportunity to go do something they wanted to do all their lives, and we give them the information, and we let them make the best decision for them.

For us, it’s not like this is something new. We’ve known this was the potential to happen with these two guys all year. We knew it as much as last year. So you’re always trying to look ahead, plan ahead, develop players, develop your roster. Those guys have been out games, both of them, in the last two years, so we’ve had to play without them.

There will be challenges, absolutely, and there will also be opportunity. With opportunity, a lot of times guys get to answer the bell. We’re going to get an opportunity to find out some other guys that can play the position. A lot of guys have been working really hard all year to develop that are going to get opportunities in this game.”

On the possibility of pursuing more quarterbacks for this class and the potential of graduate transfers…
“Yeah, we don’t ever take anything out of the realm. I mean, when we have graduate transfers in the past, that’s like a constant study. We’re looking at that for every position. Guys, it’s simple. You want to make your roster as best as you can. That’s our job as coaches. So we’re in constant pursuit of every opportunity we have. There’s nothing that’s off limits in regards to recruiting or making your roster better.”

On the impact of the bowl performance for recruiting signing in the later signing period…
“Yeah, maybe. They may look at it as an opportunity. But what’s important for our university is that we go play the best football game we can and that we have a really positive attitude and outlook on it and we’ve had four great practices. Our kids have been tremendous in those four, and we’ve been really fast, physical, and fundamental, and we’ve been doing it quick.

But what those guys that you’re talking about in the future are going to make their decision based on usually pertains to what opportunity they have to play, what our institution offers from an education standpoint. I don’t think it’s all based on the outcome of one game.”

On if previous comments of not bringing players to bowl games that are not engaged means if they’re not playing in the game, they’re not going to travel and if there has been a team-wide sentiment that what happened last year isn’t going to happen again…
“No, I think we have good leaders on this team, though. A lot of guys have addressed the attitude and the practice habits and all those things. Like I just said, they’ve been really great. They’ve been awesome. They’ve handled that really well.

As far as going to the Bowl game or not, those two guys have been tremendous. They’ve been awesome. They let us know what they’re going to do. They’re working out. They’re getting ready and preparing for the draft. We don’t really have a decision to be made there.”

On getting a recruit out of California for Georgia for the first time since 2006 and if there’s an emphasis on getting more out-of-state players…
“It hasn’t been an emphasis. It’s been more of what are our needs and who can we get? We try to go out and evaluate and find the best character, football player, students — all of those factors for us are important. Kendall certainly checks the box on all those, and he just happens to be from California. That’s not a prerequisite. We want to get the best football players we can and student-athletes we can.”

On Ben Cleveland’s status …
“Cannot confirm that, no, because there’s still things out there. So nothing’s final yet.”

On how the entire signing class will shape out after the signing day in February…
“Yeah, I can only comment on the ones that have signed today. That’s all I’m allowed to comment on. I’m excited about the ones that signed today and looking forward to finishing off the class with another great class. I’m very pleased with what we brought in today, and I’m very pleased with what we’ve got coming forward in February, but I can’t talk about it.”
On how many of Wednesday’s signees are expected to early enroll… 

“I think we’ll have six or seven mid-year enrollees, but some won’t be here for bowl practice. Some have elected to play in the All-Star games. Some have to get their academic paperwork in to be able to enroll mid-year, and some will be here for the practices.”

On the team’s approach to the upcoming Sugar Bowl… 

“I thought they approached it serious last year. We didn’t play real well, but we had a bunch of young guys that got to play on defense. Offensively, we had turnovers, and when you have turnovers, you don’t win football games. We’ve kind of gotten to that point. We’re at a zero turnover margin, and they’re at plus 14. So for the last four days, we’ve been banging that home. We can’t have turnovers and win football games. Certainly excited to give our guys an opportunity. They’ve all embraced the challenge. That’s what you do as a leader. You confront and demand and say this is how we’re going to do it, and if you don’t do it to the standard, then you don’t play. All these kids have been great. They’ve done a good job of that.”

On his evaluation of the signees on the defensive line…

“Excited. I think those three guys, when you start looking across the country, defensive linemen are hard to find, 6 foot, 300-pound plus athletic guys. They don’t grow on trees. You don’t go pick them and grab them like they do DBs or finding wide receivers. They’re hard to find, big, physical presence guys. We needed that. We’re losing some core guys, and those three guys to me, they’re as good of a group as you’ll find in the country with three of them coming in together that we really need.”

On areas the staff still needs to focus on signing student-athletes… 

“I would say O-line and receiver were the biggest areas we had to improve our roster, but you can’t say that in a class because a class has all the parts, so if it’s missing one part, then you could be deficient two years from now, three years from now, maybe next year. So I don’t feel like we’re going, oh, man, there’s a major deficiency here. We’ve got a good, really balanced class. You could say linebacker, but we felt like it was not a need to have to go take a guy at inside backer because we had some young guys there.”

On having the opportunity to play freshmen in the SEC Championship game… 

“I don’t know how many of these guys look at that and acknowledge that. I don’t know if that’s really important to them because it’s twofold. Yeah, they play a lot of freshmen. Everybody in the country plays a lot of freshmen because our rosters aren’t as deep as they used to be. Also, sometimes they see that as that’s another guy in front of me. So I don’t know that that has bearing all the time other than we will give good football players opportunities to play. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. You don’t have to be a certain age. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. We’ve always had that mantra around here. Lewis (Cine) had done some good things during the year. He played well when given the opportunity, and he did some good things in that game. He’s one of our faster players, and he helps matchup-wise, and he’s one of our best tacklers. So that was why he got the opportunity.”

On the activities the team will participate in for the Sugar Bowl…

“We don’t get to pick the activities for the players. The Bowl picks a lot of that, and having been there a lot, a lot of them carry over their traditional activities.”

On what the team practice schedule will look like leading up to the Sugar Bowl…

“As far as us, we did a quality control last year when we got back of everything that, if we had to do it again, what would we do different? What can we do better? We took those sheets out, and we’re looking at that. We made some changes, some subtle, some major, and I’m excited about the opportunity. That’s why you do that when it’s fresh on your mind right when you get back. We’re very detail oriented of, would we stay there? Would we go there? Would we do this? Would we have this game or that game? Would we practice this way or this time? Look at all that and try to find the best available option. At the end of the day, it’s really what kind of person are you inside. Like when you look at yourself in the mirror, can you accept that you did your best and you know you did your best, or do you feel like you did less than your best? That’s what we’re challenging the guys to do. That comes from inside.”

On the changes in the coaching staff and the landscape of coaching… 

“I don’t know that it’s any different. We had somebody last year, right? He was at Colorado, and he was the defensive coordinator. To me, this is part of the profession. When you win football games and you win your division three years in a row, people get opportunities, and I am happy that Sam Pittman gets the opportunity. We’ve had other coaches on our staff get opportunities that have elected to stay, and that is a good thing. But for me, the next step is getting ready to play Baylor. It was signing the signing class today. Tomorrow it’s getting our players ready to go play Baylor. The next step is a Monday practice for Baylor. So we’re working on game prep for those guys. I don’t really get into where this is compared to last year or the year before. It’s next thing up. What’s important now.”

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