Georgia coach Kirby Smart needs to cut off team behavior issues at the pass

Georgia football-Towers' Take-Kirby Smart has a discipline problem-Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia coach Kirby Smart has had to deal with the arrests of four players so far in 2019.

ATHENS —  The easy thing to do would be to climb up on top of my soap box and express my outrage over two Georgia football players getting arrested for allegedly fighting in a bar. I’m not going to do that. Football players fighting in bars has been going on since there has been football and bars.

But I’m also not going to give the Bulldogs a pass for whatever happened in the wee hours of Sunday morning at The Cloud Bar. It shouldn’t have happened and can’t happen again.

Coach Kirby Smart has a problem on his hands, and he needs to get in front of it quickly. I have no idea what he said to his players after they completed their first full-contact practice of the spring Saturday afternoon on Woodruff Practice Fields, but either he didn’t tell them “be careful tonight, stay out of the bars and stay out of trouble,” or he did and they ignored him.

Either scenario is not good.

The facts are what they are. Georgia, which is expected to be a Top 5 team when the 2019 season opens in five months, has had the more player arrests so far (four) than it has had spring practices (three). And that’s assuming that there are no more arrests as a result of Saturday night’s incident. Athens-Clarke County detectives are continuing their investigation by interviewing witnesses and reviewing video footage of what they described as a “chaotic scene” at this popular downtown Athens bar.

As it is, the current rate would give the Bulldogs 16 arrests by December. So, clearly, something has to give.

Fans have already done a good bit of scoffing about one of those arrests. Jaden Hunter, a redshirt sophomore linebacker, was hauled off to jail because he had a revoked/suspended license and was “illegally stopping, standing or parking a vehicle.” And I can certainly see why people would be incredulous about that. In fact, I think I can publicly confess to have illegally stopped or parked a vehicle before. Thankfully, I managed to avoid arrest and prosecution!

But having a valid license, registration and insurance is all a part of being a good citizen in this country. Meanwhile, state law requires that one be taken to jail if he can’t produce all that during a traffic stop. For whatever reason, Hunter couldn’t.

Georgia fans will surely recall not so long ago when the Bulldogs had to launch an internal team initiative to ensure that every player on the team who had transportation on campus had the proper credentials to drive it and that said vehicle was permitted to be on the roads. Lord knows UGA football has enough support personnel these days to assign someone to the task of being transportation czar.

But these latest infractions aren’t the kind at which we should scoff. Believe me, I grew up in a “boys will be boys” time, but we don’t live in a “boys will be boys” world anymore. These last three arrests — nobody has been convicted of anything, mind you — fall into the physical violence category. Nothing good can ever come from that.

Latavious Brini, a sophomore from Miami, is alleged to have slapped a man in the face “unprovoked” in another incident that started in another downtown Athens bar on Feb. 23.

Smart told us that he’d “handle it internally,” and I’m sure he did. How and in what way, we don’t know. Smart told us the same thing about Hunter’s situation. Either way, I’m assuming they will be handled by local law enforcement and the court system.

Whatever Smart did in those other two cases, it didn’t deter another incident. I guess we’ll eventually find out more about whatever led to a confrontation between Georgia football players Tyler Simmons and Tyrique Stevenson and “employees at The Cloud Bar.” I can’t imagine there not being body-camera video from police, not to mention cell phone video or pictures like there always is these days. But the actual incident itself is not the most troubling part for me.

For me, the issue starts with the fact that Simmons, a senior receiver and potential offensive captain for the Bulldogs, was at a 21-and-over drinking establishment with a freshman. As an early enrollee, Stevenson otherwise would be in high school back home on Miami. I don’t know Stevenson’s actual age because it’s not listed anywhere in his bio, but he couldn’t be much older than 17.

Suffice it to say, Stevenson shouldn’t have been there, and certainly not with a senior who is a member of the Bulldogs’ “Leadership Committee” that Smart puts so much stock in.

There was a time not so long ago that UGA football made all of downtown Athens and the bars and restaurants therein off limits to the entire team. Apparently that’s no longer the case, but maybe that’s where we’re headed again.

I always thought that overly restrictive in a free and open society. I mean, if you’re signed to a full scholarship to play football for a high-profile program like Georgia, with all the perks and benefits — and, yes, responsibilities and commitments — that come with that, you should be trusted to go downtown and hang out without getting in any trouble. Right?

Maybe not. Maybe that’s why Smart declined to anoint leaders at his spring practice news conference not a week ago now. He hasn’t found any yet.

So I’m not going to stand up here today and point to Georgia as an out of control program that lacks leadership. Smart’s dealing with what appears to be a couple of rough-housing misdemeanors and some irresponsible citizenry at the moment. But it’s only March, and there’s a long way to go to get to that Aug. 31st opener at Vanderbilt.

I suspect the Bulldogs’ coach is about ready the kibosh on the jail-log trend for 2019. I know I am.

Internally or externally, this needs to get handled.

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