Kirby Smart Q&A: After a near miss at history last

  • Chris Low, ESPN Elder WriterMar 29, 2024, 08:00 AM ET


    • College football press reporter
    • Signed up with in 2007
    • Graduate of the University of Tennessee

ATHENS, Ga.– When Kirby Smart returned to his alma mater in 2016, there was no ambiguity about his mission as Georgia’s football coach.He wasn’t

there to restore Georgia to yearly top 25 status or to typical 10 wins a season or even to end the Bulldogs’ SEC championship dry spell. He existed to win nationwide championships.In eight seasons under Smart, Georgia has actually won two CFP titles, played for a 3rd and won 13 or more games in each of the past three seasons.Now that Nick Saban has actually retired, Smart is undoubtedly tops among college football coaches, and his program is the envy of the sport. The Bulldogs are the only group to have finished in the top seven in the last AP survey in each of the previous seven seasons. The only season they didn’t under Smart was his very first as coach in 2016. And with Saban gone, Smart is unbeaten against all active head coaches over the past 5 seasons.Much like his former employer, Smart isn’t too crazy about talking about the past. His group won an SEC-record 29 straight games before losing to Alabama in the conference championship game last season and missing out on the College Football Playoff. That gut-wrenching 27-24 loss ended Georgia’s mission to become the first string because Minnesota in 1934 to 1936 to win three straight national championships.The Bulldogs remain in the middle of their ninth spring practice under Smart, and he sat down with ESPN to discuss whatever from his mindset coming off last year’s near miss at history, his approach to fighting complacency, his take on the identity of this year’s Georgia team, his sensations about facing Alabama without Saban and the ever-changing landscape of college football.ESPN: As you walked off the field last season in Atlanta following the loss to Alabama, did you believe there was still a possibility you might enter into the playoff?Smart: I don’t know. I hoped. I understand we ought to have, that we were one of the very best

4 teams, so I hoped there was a way. I guess deep down, I understood we probably weren’t, however, with everything established the method it was. We had our chance to take it out of the committee’s hands and didn’t get it done.ESPN: What were your feelings that next day watching the selection program when the realization set in that you weren’t going to be betting a third nationwide championship?Smart: It was still difficult swallowing the pill that you weren’t in and had accomplished all we did as a team. But once I swallowed it, I moved

on, and our group proceeded. That’s the way we have actually constantly run around here. You concentrate on what’s in front of you and improve. You do not relax and mope

about what may have been or should have been.Editor’s Picks 2 Related ESPN: Bowl games have actually become a season unto themselves, especially with all the opt-outs among players, however what did it state about your program the way you recuperated from the SEC national championship disappointment and annihilated Florida State 63-3 in the Orange Bowl with most of your crucial players choosing to play?Smart: I was happy

of our guys, proud of the method our season ended up since of our reaction against Florida State. That made it much easier for me. It made me understand this big financial investment we took into the culture of our group, the love we had for each other. The loss to Alabama, as bad as it was, gave us a chance to shine this light, ‘That you know what, these championship game matter, winning matters, finishing matters

.’Our kids revealed the sort of competitive character we pride ourselves on. They stayed and ended up the job.”ESPN: What will it resemble when you go to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 28 and do not see Nick Saban basing on the Alabama sideline?Smart: I ‘d state various for a lot of individuals. But for me, I enjoy the guy. I value all he’s done, and I enjoyed competing against him. I want he was still around, so that I might get some more chance ats him because I hadn’t done real well versus him(1-5 ). We have actually had some truly close games, some really great games. However, yeah, I want he was still there.ESPN: Does it eat at you a lot more that you coached so long under Saban, and now all of a sudden, you do not get

anymore possibilities to beat him?Smart: I do not think that has anything to do with it. I believe if I had never ever coached under him, I would probably be more annoyed since it would be like, ‘Male, I never got to beat the GOAT as much as I wanted to or whatever. ‘However with him, there’s a lot respect having actually worked for him that I enjoy for him that he’s picked to do what

he wishes to do. He should have to head out how he desired to.ESPN: What did you tell Saban when you satisfied him at midfield after last season’s SEC champion game?Smart: I simply stated

,’Look, I appreciate all you’ve done for me and my profession. You’re one of the best to ever do it, and I have tremendous respect for you.’And after that I joked with him. ‘You can’t keep doing this much longer.’ESPN: How will broadening from four to 12 groups in 2024 change the dynamic of the playoff?Smart: It keeps your hopes alive with one loss, maybe 2. A lot of coaches have actually complained that when they lost a game, their kids simply stated that they were done. There will not be as much of that. Everyone’s fighting for the exact same thing, which’s the beauty of making those last 3 or four

weeks actually, really eventful. I understand some people state, ‘It devalues the late-season games since you’ll understand you remain in. ‘Well, there will be more individuals in the hunt now. So there will be a great deal of meaningful games. That teamwith two losses late in the year that has actually played a tough schedule is going to be battling and scratching to make that 12th spot.ESPN: What do you not like about the brand-new playoff format?Smart: The concept of the SEC champion loser, who just combated their ass off to be the second-place team in the best conference in the world, needing to reverse and play possibly two weeks later on without any bye. If you go through our conference unbeaten like we did last year and lose to a group in the SEC championship game, you’re going to lose your bye and go play as a 5 seed somewhere? That’s crazy.ESPN: What’s the secret to not getting contented after playing for and/or winning an SEC title or nationwide title in six of the previous 7 seasons?Smart: It’s like elasticity. If you have a rubber band and you keep stretching and you stretch it and you extend it, eventually it loses its tightness and it’s just loose. I inform our guys all the time

,’We’re going to extend you every day, every day to where you’re really comfortable being unpleasant. We’re going to make you unpleasant at practice. ‘Guys will come up to me and inform me they can’t make it through practice. Our practices are more intense than games, and that’s purposeful because I seem like it provides your group the ability to sustain the season. To get up for every single game, you need to get up for every practice.

If you do not, that’s when you get your ass beat.ESPN: Among your strengths at Georgia has been discovering desired employees who grow on competition, as evidenced by the 55

NFL draft choices, consisting of 15 first-rounders, you’ve produced. How hard is it to find that combination?Smart: I think that’s what has made us different. We do an actually thorough task of assessing. We still think our examination matters and not the galaxy. It’s easy to get lazy and not examine the right things. We’ve handed down some kids that we didn’t think were the right fit, and after that we’ve gotten kids that weren’t great fits and they left. So there’s a lot of pressure in this company to eject the uncompetitive.ESPN: What is among the things that has actually gotten your attention about this team through the very first part of spring practice?Smart: Either we’re maybe a little weaker on the defensive line or we’re really excellent on the offensive line. The glaring thing I’ve

seen at practices is that the offending line has done a truly excellent task. That’s not to state we were below average on the defensive line in 2015. We just weren’t excellent. We didn’t have a dominant guy, but we’re constantly going to be good on defense.I do not know that we’re going to be excellent this year, however I think we have an opportunity to be great on offense.ESPN: What’s it resembled to enjoy Carson Beck’s transformation at quarterback from a year ago when he was contending for the beginning job to where he is now as a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate?Smart: He’s’Mr. Mellow’out there. The guys in the locker space enjoy him due to the fact that he’s positive, calm and very wise. Despite the fact that he’s got a

bit of arrogance to him, he’s not holier than thou like you see with some quarterbacks. Early in the year last

season, we probably did try to secure him excessive. But then you see absolutely nothing ever actually affects him and understand you’ve simply got to let the feline go play because we were either going to make it or not make it on his back. As the year went on, he improved and better, however we were probably a little too sluggish with him out of the gate.ESPN: How would you identify the makeup and identity of this group to this point?Smart: We have a lot of older players. I’m discussing fifth-and sixth-year guys, more than I have actually ever had. And after that I’ve got a very young team. So it resembles I’ve got 2 teams I’m handling all the time, the old head who remained for the NIL and the young guy who is skilled as hell and doesn’t know how far he needs to go. I’m constantly trying to navigate my practices where I don’t kill the old head, but I bring the young player up.ESPN: What are the difficulties of having that space in between veterans and younger players?Smart: It’s sort of been that way for the last three years. You’re always attempting to shape your team to be deep and physical. I view all these NCAA tournament basketball games, and I resemble, ‘Damn, how does a Yale beat Auburn?’However it’s so different in basketball, man. It’s so various since any offered five guys can beat the other 5 guys, whether they’re old, young or you’re just buying a couple of fantastic players. That ain’t our game. Our game is the line of scrimmage. If you have actually got 5 300-pounders, they’re not going

to lose to a group that has 4 protective linemen in their 250s. They’re going to destroy them.ESPN: What was

your response to the SEC sticking with the exact same conference opponents in 2025, turning the venues and not starting all over again?Smart: Me, personally, I liked it. I simply got among the hardest road schedules in the country( in 2024). I ‘d like to see it flipped where I got the chance for our fan base to have probably the best home schedule ever in Georgia history (Alabama, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas). ESPN: Do you anticipate the SEC going to nine conference games in 2026? Smart: Let’s see

where we are then and how it plays out. There were several choices presented with the 2025 schedule

. One of the more interesting concerns is what the CFP ends up being, and we’ll probably have a much better feel when we see the number of teams are going to remain in the playoff in 2026 whether it makes sense to go to 9 conference games. Certainly, tv is going to have something to do with it, however we have actually generally played two Power 5 teams in our nonconference schedule( Clemson and Georgia Tech in 2024). ESPN: Just 5 SEC coaches have won championship games at their alma maters, and the 2021 title was the very first for Georgia in 41 years. As a player, assistant coach and now head coach at Georgia, just how much does that mean to you?Smart: I was brought here to win championships,

but the important things I’m proudest of has been the consistency. I review Year 1(8-5)as a failure and not the standard, but every year after that we have actually been right there. No one else over that period can state they’ve completed in the top 7 at the very end for seven straight years. You can’t find it, not even at Alabama. We missed out on the damn playoff three times by being No. 5 or No. 6, so those are missed at-bats we would have had in this 12-team playoff. We’ve mattered every year however that first one. But I desire more than relevance. I desire supremacy, and we have actually been more dominant inthe last 3 years. What I do not want are the ebbs and flows or the one-hit wonders you see out there. I do not want any player to leave Georgia without a championship.

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