Kirby Smart facing tougher decisions as SEC head coach

Kirby Smart facing tougher decisions as SEC head coach

July 13th, 2016 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia coach Kirby Smart had to dismiss two players from his program before his first appearance at SEC media days.

Photo by Brynn Anderson

HOOVER, Ala. — The learning curve for a first-year Southeastern Conference head football coach includes the off-field mishaps, too.

Georgia's Kirby Smart has dealt with five players getting arrested since he was hired in December, including three who have been arrested multiple times. Two of those three, sophomore defensive end Chauncey Rivers and freshman cornerback Chad Clay, were dismissed from the program.

Smart had players arrested during his nine-year run as an Alabama defensive assistant under Nick Saban, but it was Saban who had to discuss the unpleasantness when it cropped up in Tuscaloosa.

"I think you've got a tougher decision," Smart said Tuesday at SEC media days. "The unique thing is that at Alabama, Nick always brought the issue to the staff and everybody helped in the decision-making process. Ultimately he had to make the decision, and that's what that seat is about. That's the unique part for me now, but the reaction is the same in that you understand these are young men 18 to 21 years old and that they're going to make mistakes.

"We don't accept them and we don't like them, but they are our babies, and we have to help them."

Sophomore defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, who was arrested early Sunday morning on DUI and underage possession charges, will be facing a suspension at the start of the season. Smart would not specify the length.

Georgia players said Tuesday that it should not be Smart's responsibility or the responsibility of his assistants to police the team.

"It's embarrassing, and I think everyone knows that," junior tight end Jeb Blazevich said. "I feel terrible for some of those guys, because it's embarrassing for them, but it's also embarrassing for me, because I obviously wasn't a good enough brother on the team and didn't hold them accountable. We're trying to change the culture and hold one another accountable so we can eliminate these mistakes.

"Kids make mistakes, but that's no excuse to say, 'It's OK.' I'm looking at what I could have done better."

Owning the SEC

Texas A&M graduate transfer quarterback Trevor Knight arrived at College Station in January from Oklahoma, where he never lost to an SEC team. Knight was on the sideline last September as Baker Mayfield rallied the Sooners to a 31-24 win at Tennessee in double-overtime, but he threw for 308 yards and a touchdown two years ago in the 34-10 win over the Volunteers in Norman.

It was Knight's performance in the Sugar Bowl after the 2013 season that remains his finest hour. Against an Alabama team trying to recover from its "Kick Six" loss at Auburn, the 6-foot-1, 215-pounder from San Antonio completed 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-31 upset triumph.

"That was obviously a night when I played well and our offense played really well and our whole team played really well," Knight said. "That was a team that had to battle adversity, and we didn't have the most talent in the world, but we just put things together and believed in the system."

Simmons decision

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said Tuesday that he was not involved "as much" in bringing Jeffery Simmons to Starkville after the five-star defensive end signee was charged in March with simple assault. The 6-4, 277-pounder was caught on video striking a woman on a parking lot in Macon, Miss.

Mullen added that he was thrilled to have Simmons join the MSU family, but he was asked if he would feel responsible should Simmons get in similar trouble as a student.

"I'll be responsible, he said. "We're all responsible. To be honest with you, I'm responsible for all the actions of every one of my players."

Simmons will be suspended for the opener against South Alabama.

Odds and ends

Georgia 299-pound senior center Brandon Kublanow on traveling to media days: "I've never been on a private plane before. It's a little small." Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said Knight's arrival has led to a "drama-free" offseason. Mullen on the Bulldogs visiting UMass and BYU this season: "Scheduling gets harder and trickier every year."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.