VIDEO: Kirby Smart Updates On Players Return to Campus

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VIDEO: Kirby Smart Updates On Players Return to Campus

Kirby Smart

Kirby Smart met with the press this morning. As UGA begins to get ready for the return of sports, Coach Smart answered questions about the process

Opening Comments …

“I just want to open with I hope you guys are staying safe. The health and well-being of your families are obviously the upmost concern for our players and for you guys. Claude [Felton] came up to me and opened up the idea of visiting a little bit. I know you guys probably think we have this wealth of information and we know the exact plan, but this is not that kind of way. We just got new information as of Friday, as you well know, and we are still getting information by the minute. Everything changes — a lot of recommendations and suggestions. We are very fortunate to have Ron Courson as our athletic trainer. He is very experienced. He has headed up several committees. He has been on a lot of Zoom calls gathering information, and he is kind of my crutch when it comes to where we are in this process of getting back. The biggest decision and ultimate decision-maker for us is the well-being of our student-athletes. That is going to be the case even with this open return and voluntary return on June 8. With that, I’ll open it up for questions and give you the best information I can.”

On sense of how players feel about coming back and making them comfortable …


“The first thing we talk about is knowledge is power are there are no dumb questions. So, obviously, leading up to the announcement on Friday we have been in communication with our players. We had Zoom meetings with them positionally and, football wise, with the eight hours we get each week. A lot of that time is spent not necessarily on X’s and O’s and teaching, it is spent on information and just communication. We have a leadership group we have stayed in contact with and are able to visit with. We provide those guys with information and each position coach provides his position group with information. We are anticipating everybody coming back under the voluntary basis — we do not have anything telling us that is not the case just yet, but that is certainly up to each individual player. We have a lot of work to do before we get them back. I do not know if you guys know or not, but we have to do a complete medical workup — a physical — on every kid before they are able to workout and comeback. There’s a lot of steps that have to happen prior to June 8 that we are all going through now, but our guys are excited. There’s obviously some apprehension and questions, but they have those same questions whether they are in Huntsville or in Macon or in Columbus of going out to work out. They know that our facility is one of the safest and we certainly have the ability to care for that facility better than a lot of places they can go back home.”

On if he has to scale back what he installs and if the experience coming back on defense helps during this time …


“I think experience is probably magnified in this season, this setting, more so than ever before because experience is so valuable when you don’t get practice. We have obviously been shortened in terms of spring practice, in terms of meetings, in terms of summer conditioning we are already being shortened, so a lot of those things have shortened us and we will have to be wise in the decisions we make. We have to be smart, and that is no different than any other year. You can have too much offense and too much defense and too much special teams and then you can have not enough. Our jobs as coaches is to try to determine what that volume is. So to try to say have we said ‘ok, are we only going to put 50 percent in, we are only going to put 70 percent in, we are only going to put 90 percent in.” I can’t say that. That’s not where we are because we don’t even know the threshold or the capacity of some of our players. We did not get to go through spring ball with necessarily some of the positions, especially on offense, of guys to see what they can handle. We will find out what the NCAA and the SEC are going to allow us to do leading up to the season, because right now we do not know that. The more they give us time wise the more we will be able to do. The less they give us the less we will probably be able to do, but that is not something we have decided right now. I am excited about the experience coming back on defense because I do think we have a lot of experience there where we probably do not have as much offensively.”

On stadium capacity …


“You said it best. I’m not going to voice an opinion one way or the other because it really boils down to one thing: what the experts, infectious disease people, scientists, what they come up with that is safe because ultimately, that decision is going to boil down to what makes a person feel safe and a lot of it has to do with the choice and decision of each and every fan and the wellbeing of our fans, as well as our players and our staff. That’s one of those decisions that I’m referring to the experts on. What I found is everything we think is going to happen can change based on what goes on from now until then. With our players coming back, are there going to be any spikes? Is anything going to happen in July? We’ll know a lot about the season, people in the stands, which is what you’re asking about, in September when that comes. I think you’ve got to look at it as that’s still three months away, and with it being three months away, it’s hard to make a decision. Because three months ago from right now, we were just finding out what was going on. So we’ve got three months and I’m very optimistic we’ll have fans in the stands, but to what extent, I have no clue and I don’t really want to speculate.”

On the process of bringing student-athletes back to campus…


“They’re all coming back on their own, you know what I mean, so it’s not like they’re going to be brought back in stages. We haven’t identified an exact number of players that will come back because, again, that’s voluntary. But as far as what we will do and our protocol, Ron was on a committee that made a lot of decisions, they had infectious disease personnel, they had representatives of every university, doctors, athletic trainers, everybody was involved in those decisions. When you say, ‘how are we going to bring them back,’ we’re going to bring them back prior to June 8 so that they can get a medical workup. They’ve got an extensive physical, they’ve got to have COVID-19 tests, they’ve got to have a lot of things done prior to June 8, so they’ve got to get back prior to June 8. So you say how will they be brought back, they will come back on their own. We’ll have workout groups that are spaced out per the protocol that Ron and the committee came up with. They’ll come in and do a really lite workout initially because we want to bring them back slowly. They’ll workout in smaller groups than traditionally before, probably 20 or so guys to a group, and of the 20 that come in, they’ll be subdivided into groups of seven. So you’re looking at a seven-person rotation in a 1,200-square foot weight room and they’ll be spaced out. So there’s a lot of protocol that goes into it and I don’t have time to go into detail of every session they have, there will be a cleaning crew that comes through and cleans where we are, from the indoor to the weight room. There will only be one door in, one door out. We won’t be using the locker room, there’s a lot of different things that people don’t understand that go into this and I don’t think our players even are getting educated that it’s not going to be the normal, ‘I’ll walk in and I go to my locker and I get stuff and I go work out and I shower,’ it’s going to be completely different. A lot of that is controlled by our state because we’re adhering to the policies of our state in terms of workout protocol, showers, and locker room usage.”

On how the coaching staff is preparing for members of the team to return…


“We were in this week, we’ll be in next week, but we’re in on a little bit of a shortened version, less time in the office and also alternating how many guys are in the office, offense and defense are separated. There’s a lot of protocol there that’s instituted by our university form a safety standpoint. They’ve also got cleaning crews after and before we’re in here that come in and protect that. So we have a shortened window and each side of the ball has a window that they’re available to come in so we’ve got a small number. And we’ll phase that as next week we’ll be able to get a few more and the following week when the players come back, we’ll be able to get a few more. So that’s the important thing, the safety of the coaches because as you know, this is a documented case, it’s the vulnerable population and the older or people with immune-compromised situations, and a lot of times that can be our coaching staff, support staff, different people that work in the program that we have to be the most careful for because they’re the most at risk.”

On the effect of the pandemic on recruiting…


“First off, it’s extremely different. The recruiting world has changed as much as anything because you’re just not capable of going to high schools. You mentioned May was a very active month for all of college football coaches, not just us. We would be going out watching spring practices, going school-to-school. I wouldn’t be able to because I don’t get to go out in May, so that didn’t really change for me, but it changed for a lot of our coaches. We’ve done what you guys know to be the case. There’s no magic potion. There’s nobody doing something magically that everybody else isn’t doing. We’re jumping on Zoom. We’re communicating with parents, coaches, recruits—we’re doing everything virtually, and that’s really the best we can do. They keep extending the period that you can’t come on campus…the ability to come on campus, they just extended that, so it’s looking like that’s not going to happen through the end of July. So, it’s going to be a very different May-June-July period and that’s unique. Who manages that the best will be important—a lot of this is who had the best relationships leading into this because, at the end of the day, you can only develop so much of a relationship through a phone, through a text, through a virtual activity. We’ve tried to be creative in the way we use that. I’m certainly not going to divulge everything we’ve done because I don’t think that’s open for everybody to do, and I think we’re all competing in the SEC, trying to make ourselves different. I can tell you this: it’s probably created a bigger burden on our recruits, and if I was a recruit or a recruit’s parent, I would be more concerned with that volume of virtual usage and phone usage, and it’s probably led to more kids committing because you can make the case that they’re committing because they can’t go anywhere. I would make the case that they’re sick and tired of being barraged by phone calls and virtual activities. Will we see more kids come November or December decommit, or go back and start visiting? I don’t know because I don’t know when we’ll be able to bring kids to campus. All that will probably come out at the end of July when we know more about what kids are going to be able to do in recruiting.”

On being away from family members during the pandemic…


“That’s probably been one of the toughest things about this event. Once again, it becomes virtual, and we can all admit we’re sick of this virtual staring at squares and people popping up on screens. That’s been tough because I haven’t been able to visit with my mom and dad for safety purposes. They’re both in a vulnerable population, and I’m probably no different than a lot of people my age that have their parents still and fortunate enough to have them and be able to spend time with them. But they haven’t been able to get close to their grandkids and see them. I want to do what they’re comfortable with and what makes them safe. That’s been an experience. It’s been new for all of us and tough. Everybody has to make their own choices and decisions, and that’s been one of the experiences of this that has been frustrating certainly.”

On whether he and other coaches/administrators feel there’s financial pressure to have a football season…


“It’s a fine line between what your motivation is. I certainly think that, fiscally and financially, there will be benefits if there is a football season, but that has nothing to do with the decisions that go into it medically. A lot of people have said the SEC has come out really strong and come out with comeback dates and return dates, and they’ve got to have this protocol to allow us to play football. But every decision that’s made on the SEC level, I can assure you, is made by infectious disease people based on information on the safety and well-being of our student-athletes. The case was given to us that different players, different people have different perceptions of testing, and that you can’t really test your way out of this. The accuracy of the tests are probably the scariest thing, especially the antibody test and the COVID test. There’s not any insurance that all of them are correct. So, basing everything just on tests, and getting kids back, or pressure to get things back financially doesn’t do anyone any good. The worst thing we can do as coaches, or administrators, is to feel like we have to do this in order to survive financially and make a decision that is costly to some, or even just one, of our student-athletes. I know from a Georgia perspective, every decision we’re making on the return to sport is based on the safety, health and well-being [of our student-athletes]. There won’t be pressure to go work out, to go do this extra [activity]. Kids get to voluntarily do it, and if a guy doesn’t feel comfortable, or if a guy has a fever or is sick, we don’t want him to come in. We don’t want them to put themselves in jeopardy, and we have to convey that [to them]. We also – as fans, as Dawg Nation – have a responsibility to make good decisions [and] to social distance . I think the longer this thing has gone on, the more people begin to relax and say, ‘Well, this won’t affect me.’ The last thing we need right now, if people want to have a football season or any athletic season, is to have another flare up. The biggest thing we can do is take care of that by making good decisions [and by] being aware. We’re going to educate our players, because I promise you, there are some of our players that don’t feel vulnerable. They feel like they’re not vulnerable because of what they’ve heard, or because they think they have superpowers. We’re going to educate our guys to be safe [and] to make good decisions. We’re going to have education sessions, even when they get back, to give us the best opportunity to have a season, but that’ll be based on the scientists, not on financial [aspects].”

On what the plan is if someone tests positive for COVID-19…


“Yeah, so we have protocol set up through Ron [Courson] and his staff, medically, they have explained that with the parents and players as they return. Each guy will have the option of whether they go back home if they test positive, they can do that. We have a quarantine policy that we are able to put guys into should they test positive. We also have the ability if it happens during a workout period that we will have contact tracing where guys that have worked out together—those groups will stay the same and we will be aware of those guys. Ron and his staff have a lot things in place. We are not looking really far out of what is going to happen in the season and what is going to happen in preseason camp. We are looking at June and the immediate issues there. We have some guys that are getting screened as part of the protocol before they ever come back. Every kid is going to have a talk and a conversation with our medical staff based on where they are coming from, how they feel, have been sick recently, and then as well as the COVID-19 test when they return.”

On any unanswered medical questions that he has…


“Well, I could go on for an hour on that, but I mean I can’t answer those and I also understand why we can’t answer those because everything is constantly changing. I don’t know how much you guys follow CDC, but their guidelines have changed within the last two to three weeks, and they update those guidelines all the time. We are constantly monitoring that, and that may change something. Two weeks ago it was thought that when everyone would take an antibody test. Now it’s thought that the antibody test is really unreliable and there is not so much accuracy in it so that has changed. That is just one of the subtle things. As far as questions I have, I understand that you can’t control things that you can’t control. I am at peace with that. If you had told me two or three months ago—it probably would have been a greater level of frustration. Where now, I understand it. Change is just almost inevitable in the environment that we are in. We have to do a good job of managing that. I mean the first question that would come to my mind is, ‘What is going to happen in July?’ And I don’t know that because those decisions haven’t been made. A lot of July may be dictated by how June goes, and what happens in June. So, that is kind of the next step for me is how will July apply, will we get the ability to maybe do some more walk-throughs, some required activity. Remember, what is going on right now is not required activity—will we get some of that? That is probably the biggest thing for us, other than the health and safety of our players.”

On where the players will be living this summer…


“Yeah, a lot of that is still determined in regards to that we are working through that process with the University Housing Department. We have—over 50-percent of our team lives off-campus, meaning they live in their apartments or designated lease area and that will still remain the same. As far as the rest of it, we are still working through it.”

On what he has seen from the players and how they are “attacking” this adversity…


“Yeah I mean every kid ‘to a T’ has done a tremendous job. I mean the first level of commitment in handling adversity would be our team-GPA, over a 3.0 for the first time as a football team. It was incredible for those guys and finish strong. Before we went on spring break we didn’t really know this was coming and we had the highest markers of the semester that we have ever had. We were on our way to our best semester ever and we had made an overall asserted effort to approve that area, and our goal was a team-GPA of 3.0. When we went on spring break, hitting our marks to do that. Then we finished it, with all of the news and going online, with that, and that was an incredible semester. That was the first adversity they came over. Then as far as workouts, a lot of our guys, you guys have known have posted workouts. There has been a lot of workouts that you haven’t seen that they have sent to each other, among position groups. That’s the first sign that there is a level of commitment that you need to be successful, and I am looking forward to getting those guys back so they can do it here.”

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Greg is closing in on 11 years writing about and photographing UGA sports. While often wrong and/or out of focus, it has been a long, strange trip full of fun and new friends.