Smart discusses next steps for Bulldogs coaches, players

Smart discusses next steps for Bulldogs coaches, players

New UGA coach catches his breath, prepares for next step

February 7th, 2016 by David Paschall in Sports - College

New Georgia football coach Kirby Smart discussed his signing class on Wednesday, which capped a hectic two months for the former Alabama defensive coordinator.

Photo by David Barnes

ATHENS, Ga. — Two months ago today, Kirby Smart was being introduced as the new head football coach at the University of Georgia.

The hectic days since have included hiring an offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and seven other assistant coaches. Smart also had a recruiting class to maintain and build upon, plus he had to finish his role as Alabama's defensive coordinator, which included an impressive 38-0 trampling of Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl and a harrowing 45-40 escape of Clemson in the championship game of the four-team playoff.

Smart strengthened bonds with Crimson Tide players before leaving and began forming bonds with the recruits who signed their letters of intent with Georgia last Wednesday, but he did not have time to familiarize himself with the returning Bulldogs.

"We've got to get our hands on our players and get into the offseason conditioning program," Smart said on signing day. "We need to get around those guys and spend more time with them. As a staff, we're starting on quality control this next week, and I'm really looking forward to that, because that's the part I enjoy the most.

"I like building relationships with the players. The core of our team this year is on this campus, and we've got to develop that."

Smart spent his first week as Georgia's new coach on the recruiting trail before heading back to the practice fields in Tuscaloosa, where he helped Alabama prepare for its dismantling of the Spartans. Then it was on to prepping for Clemson, but he was also spending time assembling his Bulldogs staff.

Weeks of multitasking ended Jan. 12 — the day after the title game — when he flew that morning from Arizona to Georgia along with new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

"The last two weeks actually have been a blessing in disguise," Smart said, "because I've been able to do what I love to do and see all the relationships I've had over the years. I've had people tell me I've done it the right way and that I've been patient.

"I've seen mentors that I've had relationships with, either through my dad or through recruiting, and that meant a lot to me."

Georgia signed a recruiting class that has been ranked No. 7 nationally by ESPN and 247Sports.com, which is the highest ranking for a Southeastern Conference program amid a coaching transition. Keeping five-star quarterback and early enrollee Jacob Eason was the top catch, and the Bulldogs added five-star athlete Mecole Hardman from nearby Elberton on Wednesday.

As the dust settled late Wednesday afternoon, Georgia senior associate athletic director Claude Felton said Smart was giving his assistants some days off to "decompress."

"I couldn't be prouder of the effort they put forward with the weekends and the demands it put on their families," Smart said. "A lot of them are a long way away from their wives and kids."

The next few weeks will include player meetings and offseason workouts before the calendar flips to March and the start of spring practice. Georgia will hold its G-Day game on April 16, with Smart having issued a challenge to Bulldogs fans to fill all 92,746 seats of Sanford Stadium.

While there are sure to be obstacles ahead for Georgia's first new head coach since Mark Richt took over in 2001, Smart believes the past two months have provided a good idea of what to expect.

"As far as the work hours, demands and the stress level, it was a great start to be doing all that at once," Smart said. "Now it feels like it's easing off, because you had the pedal to the metal to start out. It was obviously challenging to do all that stuff early on."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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