Head coach of Georgia, Kirby Smart, takes the stage to answer questions and give his take on the upcoming season and state of the SEC at the SEC Media Days conference in Hoover, Alabama on July 12, 2016. (Photo/Henry Taylor: firstname.lastname@example.org).
HOOVER, Ala. â€“ After his session in the Main Media room at 9:05 a.m. central time, Kirby Smart walked through a door in the back-left corner of a temporary tan wall in the Radio/Internet room at The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama. With reporters staring at their laptops and the moderator leaned over scrolling through his phone, Smart went largely unnoticed until he arrived at the podium. As he sat down, the moderator looked up, startled.The media in the room laughed and the moderator stood up to shake hands with Smart. Then, it was back to the spotlight and answering questions.It was a fleeting moment of invisibility for the first-year head coach. Coming into SEC Media Days, all eyes were on Georgia as questions surrounded the program with a little under two months until the first game. Will junior running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb be healthy for the first game? Who will start at quarterback? Why are the numbers up on players being arrested? How will Smart handle his first appearance at these very media days?
Smart fielded questions on all of these topics, and answered each of them directly and with considerable clarity. Chubb is recovering and â€œwonâ€™t have limitations in what he does physicallyâ€ when preseason practice starts. Michel suffered an open fracture and was in the hospital until Friday. No one expected Smart to name a starter at quarterback, but he did say that person will be the player who gives the team the best chance to win â€“ not the best player. Ledbetter will receive a suspension of unspecified length and is being given help.As for Smartâ€™s first appearance at Media Days, he looked like a coach who had been here for years. Although that isnâ€™t the case, Smart was quick to remind the crowd in the Main Media room that he has been a part of the SEC for 18 years as both a player and coach.However, Georgiaâ€™s appearance at media days was Smartâ€™s first time talking to and answering questions from a national audience. As a newcomer, Smart said he was given advise on how to handle the event.â€œIâ€™ve had a lot of texts in the last couple days from peers and buddies, and I wonâ€™t share who said what, but they all have their own opinions,â€ Smart said. â€œSome said speak short and answer questions long, and some said talk long and answer questions short.â€Smart opted for the latter, taking for approximately 10 minutes to present his opening statement, a state-of-the-union-like address that ranged from thanking the media to citing the percentage of underclassmen on Georgiaâ€™s team (63 percent) to discussing the upcoming season. Then, he answered the 13 questions posed to him with the long answers of which the local media has become accustomed to. With the Grand Ballroom lit up in red, Smart looked cool, calm and collected.â€œHe may be a rookie head coach, but he sounded like a veteran,â€ radio and television personality Paul Finebaum said on the SEC Networkâ€™s broadcast of media days. â€œIâ€™ve been coming to these things for a long time, and Iâ€™ve never heard a rookie head coach like that. He was brilliant.â€By all accounts, Smart earned the respect of the national media today, but heâ€™s earned the respect of his players already, which isnâ€™t easy for a new coach to do with players whom he didnâ€™t recruit.â€œI trust him, all the guys trust him,â€ junior tight end Jeb Blazevich said. â€œWeâ€™re starting to unify around him.â€Â Junior safety Dominick Sanders, who was recruited by Smart in high school to play at Alabama, echoed Blazevich.
â€œ[Smart] is an awesome guy,â€ Sanders said. â€œWe work every day in the weight room, applying everything for him and do what we can off the field.â€Smart brought players important to Georgiaâ€™s success, but he didnâ€™t bring any â€œstarâ€ players with him to Media Days â€“ Sanders is soft-spoken, Blazevich is a fan-favorite but in a low-profile position and Kublanow is a center. That lack of star-power is in large part due to Michel â€” who wanted to come before his ATV accident, according to Kublanow â€” and Chubbâ€™s injuries, but Smart is the head of this program and he spoke with the authority and confidence that showed he knows that.Once Smart was hired following the firing of Mark Richt, he became the face of this yearâ€™s team. In a year or two it might be quarterback Jacob Eason, but as of now heâ€™s a freshman. Instead, itâ€™s Smartâ€™s face that is emblazoned on a billboard as you enter Athens off of Highway 316. It was a video in which Smart said â€œitâ€™s good to be homeâ€ that elicited one of the loudest cheers at this yearâ€™s G-Day. On Tuesday, he showed why.Â Â
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