ATHENS – The mess in Georgia’s locker room had gotten out of hand, and something finally had to be done about it. So one day, tight end Jeb Blazevich recalls, they arrived in the locker room and saw sheets posted ordering players to pick up after themselves, rather than let the cleaning staff do it.
So each day a position group, or the entire offense and defense, will be on cleaning patrol.
“That’s just a minor example of the kind of culture we’re trying to promote here,” Blazevich said.
The story, and that quote, fits the narrative that many want to write: A program undergoing a culture change, with Kirby Smart rolling in, bringing in his Alabama, Nick Saban-like ways.
The only hitch is that doesn’t appear to actually be true. At least not yet.
“No I don’t see any difference,” tailback Sony Michel said, when asked if there was a culture change going on around the team. “Because we as a team, it’s kind of the same team, and the guy that’s going to come in is going to carry over. We’re kind of used to one way of doing things. So it’s going to continue.
“It’s not like Coach Smart came in and said, ‘Nah we’re gonna do it this way.’ No, he lets us be Georgia football. He came in, just added a couple rules, a couple things. We’re going to abide by them. But the culture’s still the same.”
Even Blazevich, after prodded a bit more about his culture comment, backed off it being a statement about the change in coaches. He wasn’t even sure who posted the signs assigning cleanup duty.
“The main point is we’re all holding ourselves accountable. That’s an example of it,” he said.
If there is a culture change, it may be player-driven. A bunch of seniors are gone from the team, so a new group of veterans is having to step up. And a lot of those are actually juniors: Blazevich, Michel, safety Dominick Sanders, tailback Nick Chubb.
Michel and Blazevich were two of the three players Smart approved for interviews after Thursday’s practice, the only day players are available this week. Reporters poked and prodded, trying to elicit evidence of a massive change in the program. They wouldn’t play along.
“I think the culture is kind of similar. Still the same,” Michel said. “We’re still going to play Georgia football. Defense, they’re good at stopping the run and the offense we’re good at running the ball. And I think the coaches are kind of similar, and still the same.”
When Smart first met his new team last December, he told them they had the same level of talent as Alabama. The difference was just a “small margin of error.”
At practice, coaches focus on tiny things “a lot,” according to Michel, rarely using the phrase “good job.”
“Sometimes you feel like, All right I did this right, but then they say, ‘No tighter,’ or ‘faster.’ It’ll always be something that they want differently,” Michel said.
But is it a noticeable difference how detail-oriented the coaches are now?
“No,” Michel said. “Many college coaches, they demand a lot and detail-oriented things. Because one little small detail can get you beat in a game. Any kind of game. One little small mistake could get you beat.”
Georgia did win a lot of games under Richt. It just didn’t win enough, and went the last 10 years of his tenure without an SEC championship. That’s why he was replaced by Smart, who filled his fingers with SEC and national championship rings as an Alabama assistant.
But for those thinking that Smart did that by changing everything he saw, that’s apparently not the case. At least not in his first 100 days.
There’s no desire to compare the two head coaches and their staffs, Blazevich said. The change happened, and it’s about moving forward.
“It all goes back to the philosophy around here: We’re trying to take the next step,” Blazevich said. “No matter what’s it in, academics, what I just talked about being a good person. But, of course, it’s on the field, ‘how can I take the next step?’”
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