ATHENS, GA — Kirby Smart said Tuesday that he would “strongly disagree” with anyone’s perception that the Georgia football program’s brand has been damaged. It’s either incredibly naive or simply the defensive mechanism for any strong and successful coach, let alone out of back-to-back national championships, to believe that criticism is not warranted.
This would be a good time for Smart to re-evaluate the way he does some things. Even if Georgia is right that the program has been unfairly sullied by a newspaper report that suggested the school’s coaches and administrators look the other way when football players are accused of sexual misconduct, the cloud over this program right now cannot. deny it. It was a bad season, the worst ever under Smart, from the tragic car crash on the night of the Bulldogs championship show that claimed two lives, to the stories about the street racing and traffic tickets that followed.
Smart is not wrong in everything that happened. But he is the face and voice of the programme. He is responsible for sending messages to his players and how he responds to negative news in public. He is responsible for discipline. In those areas, it was lacking.
I don’t think Smart is a bad person or so obsessed and focused on winning that he’s oblivious or uninterested in the issues. But he was slow to respond publicly when stories were being written about his players’ driving habits, before finally giving an interview to ESPN. He has consistently resisted being transparent about how he disciplines players, which could create suspicions among pundits that the issues are being taken seriously. It took two weeks before he, athletic director Josh Brooks and other school officials responded Tuesday about the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s sexual misconduct story.
Smart called the story “sensational and imprecise”. Brooks called it “inaccurate and misleading”. The Georgia Department of Legal Affairs took an unusually aggressive approach in identifying errors and mischaracterizations in the story in a nine-page letter to the newspaper and asking for a retraction.
But even in the best-case scenario that Georgia doesn’t lose its moral compass, Smart must recognize that the program is under the microscope as never before, and not in a good way, and it must respond differently. This means being more proactive when it comes to dealing with player problems and being more transparent with those actions publicly. It means increased discipline and messaging. Because if this whole annoyance had been about a possible false press story, there wouldn’t be much noise right now.
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Smart admitted that this was difficult. He did not dismiss the suggestion that players and recruits—given a background of back-to-back national championships and having high status on campus and across the state—might feel entitled, as if laws, standards, and codes of conduct did not apply to them. .
“I don’t think there’s anything I would have done differently,” Smart said when asked about the past several weeks. “I wish we could prevent speed and learning problems from a horrible catastrophic event. I’m still grappling with that.”
And then: “You ask the question invincible, or are we above the law. You always worry about that as a football coach. I never sleep at night, and I worry about that. It wasn’t because we won two national championships. I worry about that.” “Every year. I worry about it all the time. How do we get them to understand that this is real life, that you are not above the law, that you have to adhere to the principles and values of the organization? We’ve had guys fired for not living up to the principles and values of the organization.”
Has player issues been more difficult to deal with over the past two years due to success?
“I would say this year it was more challenging,” said Smart. “It’s been a really tough off-season, if you want to tell the truth, because of the way it started. I don’t know if there’s a perfect way to remedy that. We have a very close-knit group and you’re just evolving from adversity. But explaining to those people and making sure they understand is a strength. What they do and what they stand for is crucial.
“I don’t know we can eliminate speed. I don’t know it’s possible. I’m doing the best I can. But I don’t think what we’re doing now has been effective enough.”
There are points for self-awareness.
There is no easy solution. These are young collegiate athletes who are being celebrated more than ever. They have more power than ever before. They have more money than ever before. They can afford fast cars.
More reason why Smart should come down harder. He is the most powerful individual on campus. The university’s president and athletic director follow in his footsteps in these areas. If players think there is a serious chance of being suspended for matches or being sent off, it is reasonable to assume that there will be fewer problems.
Smart believes that the public humiliation associated with a speeding citation is sufficient — and that he should not have to reveal how individuals are being punished. In an ideal world, he would be right. But this is not a perfect world. He even admitted it in a veiled way when asked about the lack of discipline: “Assuming we don’t do anything. Well, we are.”
Some have made a big deal about the position of Georgia player support director Bryant Gant, who has been portrayed as “the go-between” because he’s generally the first phone call a player makes when they’re in legal trouble. He appears at the police station and sometimes in court. But Gantt denies the “fixer” characterization. Tell Athletic Seth Emerson, “You can watch any incident we’ve been in since I was there, dealing with the police, when there was a video of me there. I never got involved.”
Again, even if this is true, Brooks understands the “optics” of Gantt’s existence. That’s why, he admitted, “we had to be very intentional about not getting into a situation where he could be misunderstood, that he would do anything there but support the student-athlete. We have full confidence that he never crossed the line. But we have to be more diligent.” To ascertain how it is perceived.
Because that is where Georgia is today. The stories don’t revolve around two championships, a 29-1 record the past two seasons and 19 straight SEC regular season wins. They’re not like, “Who’s going to replace Stetson Bennett?” The conversation revolves around the things that hurt the brand.
“We’re not perfect. We don’t have a perfect program,” Smart said.
He does not have an easy job. It cannot control the actions of more than 100 players. But this unofficial indicates that he could do more.
(Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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