Video/Transcript: Kirby Smart’s Vanderbilt Media Day Presser – December 14, 2020

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Video/Transcript: Kirby Smart’s Vanderbilt Media Day Presser – December 14, 2020

Opening statement …

“I would like to open with a big Happy Birthday to Charley Trippi — one of the greatest to ever play here at Georgia. His 99th, that’s right, his 99th birthday. As I understand it, Loran Smith took a birthday cake over to him today with 99 candles in it, so pretty cool deal, pretty special moment, and we are all cheering for him.

“With that, we will move to Vanderbilt, and that is where our attention turns to our final SEC game and our last home game for our seniors, which have meant so much to our program and have done such a good job leading this team through he SEC gauntlet this year. Excited to move on to these guys.” 

 On preparing this week with a game, Signing Day and Christmas all around the corner …

“What’s important now? We are focused on today, which today for us is scouting report, clean up from last game, begin prep on Vandy, which we had a whole week of prep on Vandy, so we have not had a lot of chance for things to change. We feel like we are ahead in regards to our preparation, but our kids are not necessarily. They do not remember a lot of that information from week-to-week, so that is really our focus.

“As far as the Signing Day, there is not a lot of preparation you can do for that, especially not the way recruiting is now. Usually you would have people going into homes last week, this week, and that is not the case. So, we are in communication with the ones who are planning on signing with us early, and then some are early enrollees, so we are still trying to finish out with some guys and close out with some guys. That’s kind of where we are. It is not distracting having a Signing Day, it is more the management of the numbers and all the different things is tougher.”

On what more he wants to see from his team this week to end the regular season …

“Just keep getting better. We have an opportunity to get better and play. You work your butt off year around, especially this year, to get to play the games, and that is what everyone looks forward to. We want to go out and grow and get better and find at where we can improve. There’s no way to simulate a game. We can practice all we want. You have to go play the games to get better, and sometimes that involves anxiety, getting over that, getting experience for players that haven’t had a chance to play. The biggest thing I want to see is to continue to improve, continue the trajectory in the right direction.” 

On how confident he is this Saturday’s game will be played and any back-up plans to honor seniors …

“We are optimistic that Vandy is going to be able to play. That is not my expertise or my job to know exactly where they are. I am focused on us and where we are. We are optimistic we are going to be able to play. They were able to play last week against Tennessee, and we are looking forward to getting ours seniors out there for one last home game. That’s really all we can control. That is all we are focused on is playing them.”

On Monty Rice being a finalist for the Butkus Award …

“Anytime something comes up for a kid as good as him that has given as much to a program as he has ours. He has been one of the tremendous leaders in this organization for a while. He made a decision to come back, which I think is a good decision. He has played really well this year, he has played better this year. He has had to push through some injuries and some pains, but he has done that. You look at the guys at the next level — they have to be tough, they have to be physical, they have to play a 16-game regular season. At inside backer, there is probably no more physical position in terms of contact than that position. He has played it in the best conference, in the toughest league for four years, and he has been a really good player. His whole body of work is impressive. As to whether or not he wins that award, I don’t know enough about the other players to speak on that. I certainly know he is the best linebacker we’ve got, he’s a really good football player, and he has played in the best conference. I can’t tell you where he stacks up statistically because I don’t think statistics matter. For me, it is not about that. He rotates and plays with some other guys, and I’ll bet you some of those other guys don’t do that. Monty is going to make a great teammate and pro regardless of whether he wins that award or not. He is certainly deserving of the accolades he has received, and I am certainly hopeful he gets an opportunity to win it.” 

On the value of finishing the season…

“To me, the value is that’s why you play the game, to play the game. You play football to play the game. Everybody loses sight of that. There’s only one national champion last I checked in the system we have. We don’t have multiples, they don’t share it, people don’t claim it, well, they might this year based on their records, but they don’t have that opportunity. What you have is an opportunity to play the game and go out there and compete against somebody. In football, maybe 12, maybe 13, maybe 10 this year, maybe 11, that’s all you get.  You work year-round for those opportunities. If you divide the games by the number of days, you’re getting one game for every 30-something days you put work in. I know the guys want to play, I know it’s important to them. Are they tired? Yeah. You have to handle that as a coach by how you practice and how you lead and how you organize, and how you make it fun for the players. But at the end of the day, it’s not for everybody.  Not every kid has to play. If you choose not to then you probably shouldn’t be in this sport. That’s not where our guys are, they’ve bought into it. I think it’s important for them that they finish off with a really bowl game and a chance to finish Top 10, maybe higher.  A chance to go to a New Year’s Six bowl four consecutive year. A chance to tie or break the winning record of any senior class to play at Georgia. There’s a lot there left to play for. The large portion of our team is still going to be back for the following year. They’re working on becoming better at what they do.”

On if the chance to be Co-SEC East Champions means something to the team…

“No, I don’t know. A lot will be made about that that we don’t control. It’s not something that’s up on our resume that we’re going to be fighting for. To me, it’s about winning the next game. It’s about getting our seniors a chance to win those games. If that comes with it, great, but that’s not something that we want to toot the horn about.”

On the return of Richard LeCounte and Kendall Milton and the value of having LeCounte on the sideline even when he doesn’t dress…

“We think Kendall is really close. He has worked really hard to get back and get himself in a position to be healthy. He felt like he was around 85-90 percent last week and probably could have played if he had to. We are fortunate that we didn’t have to. He is going to have a long career and we want to protect that long career. It’s not about one game with Kendall Milton, it’s about making sure he’s ready and prepared. I can promise you that he wants to get back out there. He loves the game, he works really hard at practice to do that. Our medical staff makes that decision.

“Richard did travel to Missouri and was great to have on the sideline and the other defensive backs. He has a lot of experience. He didn’t dress but he was there with us on the sideline, so he provides a lot of value as a leader. We were hopeful to get him back, I can’t answer where he is, because I haven’t seen him run or do anything since Thursday.”

On the potential of freshman running back Daijun Edwards…

“We always thought he was a really good football player. He was a kid we recruited the entire year. He wasn’t on everybody’s radar or on the ranking and all of those things. I don’t really know where he stood, or care, he was a good football player. We always value really good, hard, tough runners. He cares about his teammates. I think the evidence is when he scored his touchdown, the reaction of the other players was to celebrate with him because we weren’t able to give him a touchdown to finish out the South Carolina game. He had a great drive and we never got him in the end zone. For him to get it the other day, the reaction from his teammates tells you what people think of him as a person and a competitor. We are trying to find more roles for him on Special Teams because he does a really good job and we think he’s a good football player.”

On potentially finding an alternative opponent if Vanderbilt cannot play…

“I’m focused on Vanderbilt. We’re preparing to play Vanderbilt and we’re very optimistic they’re going to be able to play. As I understand, I think Ole Miss has LSU for a game, unless I’m missing something here. That’s not our thought or focus, and I really haven’t talked to the conference office about that.”

On the possible lessons from Marco Wilson’s shoe penalty…

“As far as Marco, every Thursday and Friday, we show situational football analysis and try to teach our players about different situations in a game and we try to learn from experiences across the country. We use those situations to say, ‘Hey, look, this guy celebrated and they had to kick off from 15 yards back. Look at what it cost them. They returned it and kicked a field goal and won the game.’ Every time you have a teaching moment that kids can learn from, you do the best job you can to show them that, and hopefully, it hits home with one guy. Ultimately, the way you learn lessons is through those kinds of experiences and making mistakes. I hate it for Marco because he’s a great kid. He’s a kid we recruited. I’ve known him for a long time. His dad’s a high school coach in the Miami area. He’s a really good football player, and it’s tough, it’s unfortunate. Hopefully, he learns from the mistake and some teams can as well because no coach wants to see a game decided by things like that.”

On freshman wide receivers Ladd McConkey and Arian Smith…

“I’m excited about those guys. They’ve worked really hard to get better. They’ve been thrust into action due to injuries, with (Marcus) Rosemy being out. Justin Robinson’s been dealing with a shoulder, so he’s been out—he had a shoulder injury in practice and he’s been out for a couple weeks now and he’s battling back from that. It’s been a tough position to stay healthy at this year, for whatever reason. But we’re excited about those young guys and they’re going to be good players we feel like.”

On the firing of Gus Malzahn and SEC schools continuing to pay large buyouts in uncertain financial times…

“That’s not for me to decide. I don’t have a comment. I think our profession, especially in the SEC and now the coaching profession as a whole, has gotten tougher and tougher and more competitive as the sweepstakes have gone up to win and generate revenue through television contracts and things. It’s put a higher expectation. Across the board, when you look at the SEC, it’s a conference that everyone wants to be in until they’re in it, and they realize the toughness it creates not only on the field, but in the recruiting world going out, trying to win on the recruiting field, trying to win on the grass. It’s an everyday grind, and I know a lot of people out there would argue, ‘Well, it should be based on what the coaches are able to make and the revenue they generate.’ It’s tough and stressful on the families of these coaches, and when you get let go like that, it can be tough. I have a lot of respect for Gus. He’s been a very good friend of mine for quite a while. I know that he and Kristi will land on their feet, and he’s going to be successful in whatever he does.”

On the return of Jordan Davis…

“I thought he was a little rusty. He came back in and he was feeling his way out. He hadn’t been to the ground in a while and hadn’t had to tackle anybody live. He got to practice and was moving around pretty good. I thought he did a really good job of fighting to stay in shape during the time he did not play, and that’s key for a big guy like himself. He changes the dynamic in the run game. He makes people think about running it inside because he’s really hard to move. So, when he’s in, we tend to get more perimeter run, passing game, and he stuffs the middle up. I was really proud of the way he led. He’s had a really positive attitude in the finish of these weeks to help him play well.”

On the recent success on converting third downs…

“Good game planning. I think our staff does a great job, [Todd] Monken and Cortez [Hankton] put together a plan each week for third down. We’ve been pretty good on third downs. We here at Georgia spend a lot of time on third downs. I think it’s one of the key stats to be able to get three more plays. Defensively and offensively every week, one thing that we are always going to do is go against each other, good on good, on third downs. It’s safer because it’s normally a passing environment. It’s protection-based, route-based. It’s good people covering good people. It’s always a competitive deal for us. We want to be in the top of the SEC on offense in third downs. I think they’ve done a good job with that. I think the protection has been good. We had a couple times where we got beat Saturday in protection which is disappointing for us because we don’t usually have that. We gave up a couple sacks or bat-and- balls. But, JT [Daniels] makes good decision in there. We have to continue to develop that because it’s very obvious that people are coming after and being very aggressive. We have seen more zero blitz against him that we probably have seen all two years with Jake [Fromm]. As people begin to get more and more aggressive. It just shows you that they don’t want to give you time there and hit these wideouts that we have. If they are going to be aggressive, we have to try and make them pay.”

On how he talks to players about the advantages of staying for their senior year and his thoughts on Alabama’s success with having players return…

“They [Alabama] had a lot of guys go pro that came out. Everybody talks about it, they had four or five guys come out on offense, and I think almost all of them were picked in the first round. I know you are talking about later picks, but they had just as many come out that stayed. Sometimes the ones that come out are filling up the spots that the guys that decided to come back will take. There’s no doubt in my mind that Devonta [Smith] coming back had something to do with the guys that were going out and went in the first round. There’s only so many spots available there. We always talk to our guys about that. We educate them on it—it’s important. I feel like for the most part we have had really good fortune with juniors making pretty good decisions. We had two juniors come out last year that went in the first round—really three if you count [D’Andre] Swift. Jake [Fromm] made the decision he did, and Solly [Solomon Kindley] was really a fifth year guy—he was going to be a fifth year guy. He had been here four. We like to educate them. We like to encourage them, but we also want people to realized their dreams and opportunities. I feel like if you do a good job with your culture throughout the time you are here and you educate them well on it, they have to have a reason to want to leave and go. Maybe that is financial for their family, but long-term financially we educate them. The best value they can get is to go as high as possible in the draft which ensures longevity in the NFL. That’s the ultimate factor—how long can you stay up there. You can stay up there longer the higher you are picked. We do a good job educating them on it. We have a lot of people on our staff that are involved in it. I reach out to a lot of people in the NFL organizations, general managers, to get information. At the end of the day it’s the kids decision, and we are going to support them in whatever they decide to do.”  

On how much they have had to depend on their graphic and video teams to help in the recruiting process this year…

“To be honest with you, I have run out of creativity. There’s probably people a lot smarter than me out there because I can’t figure out what the next cutting edge item is because we just do real talk at this point—get on the phone and talk on the phone like normal people and FaceTime and Zoom. There’s nothing left outside of the box. To be honest with you, they are about fed up with it. They’ve decided where they want to go, and they want to get on with it. They are over high school. They are over virtual classes—they are over all of that. They want to move on, and that’s why so many of them are mid-year. I can’t tell you—the focus over the last two months has been on completing the class and playing football—our football, not really trying to create a dynamic way to talk to them because I am all out on that front.”

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