MACON — Georgia fans are thrilled with pretty much everything Georgia football is doing under coach Kirby Smart. There was more evidence to that end as Central Georgia fans of the Bulldogs were lined up down the aisles, out the door and down Second Street to get a “grip-and-grin” picture with the head coach.
Basketball coach Tom Crean was also here for the latest stop on the annual and ever-shrinking Coaches Caravan. The Macon Touchdown Club was the lucky recipient to get one of this year’s stops, which last year took the Georgia coaches to Columbus and Savannah on the yearly speaking circuit.
But, as always, it was the Georgia football coach that had the crowd abuzz. And he was treated with the same quality as they say The King himself received when he came here. That’d be Elvis Pressley.
Smart’s just about as popular after leading the Bulldogs to back-to-back SEC Eastern Division titles, one SEC championship and one National Championship Game appearance in the last two years. And that’s great. But it was Clemson and Alabama, respectively, who have won the last two national championships, not Georgia.
So Smart was asked in a 10-minute media briefing before his appearance when the Bulldogs needed to do to get over the hump and past those programs that have been finishing ahead of them.
“I think anytime you talk about a hump you think about the little things that you can do better. The details,” Smart said as he stood in a small room behind a stage frequented by The Allman Brothers back in the day. “Whether it’s turnovers, create turnovers. There’s so many things, statistics that we can improve in. that it’s hard to pinpoint anything. I’m certainly excited about this team, I’m excited about the guys we’ve got coming back. I love their work ethic, I love the spring we had, I’m just excited to be able to coach them.”
There’s much to be excited about. Georgia is showing up in the Top 5 of virtually every preseason prognostication that is out there (none of which matters), and generally in the top three. But in almost every case, the Bulldogs’ name is found behind the same teams that have been ahead of them in the final polls of the season — Clemson and Alabama.
Smart has been outspoken and active about one way he believes Georgia can make up ground, and that’s facilities. Clemson and Alabama both have out-paced UGA in that regard to this point. Even South Carolina recently opened a gleaming $50 million football operations building.
But the Bulldogs are closing the gap. Smart and his program have benefited from more than $100 million in improvements with Payne Indoor Athletic Center and the West End renovation at Sanford Stadium. And next up is for Georgia is a new football facility that may cost $80 million before its over. That project is expected to receive some level of approval at the UGA Athletic Association’s Board’s end-of-the-year meeting on St. Simons Island this Friday.
Smart is obviously in the loop regarding all those details. But he wasn’t ready to share them on Monday, other than to confirm the plan is build on the current site of Woodruff Practice Fields and the Butts-Mehre Complex.
“We’re looking at it on our home base,” he said. “We’re still in the early stages of it. We’re excited about the opportunity we’ve got. I think we’ve got a great location for it. We’re excited about the fundraising that’s going on for it. Matt Borman and the development staff have done a tremendous job raising money for it. That’s really all there is right now.”
And that’s what these little tours really all about. Increasingly, UGA has closed them to the public and made them “donor-only” events. But this one was come-one, come-all. All one had to do was register through the Georgia Bulldogs Club.
So many Maconites took advantage. This is, after all, an extremely fertile recruiting ground for the Bulldogs. It’s from here, near the state’s central-most city, where Georgia landed Jake Fromm, Malik Herring and Kearis Jackson, among many others.
“We’ve got some good kids from this area, I’m excited about each one of those guys,” Smart said. “I know the programs that each one came from, I know what they stand for, the high school coaches in this area do a tremendous job. I got to go to almost every one of those kids’ high school games, whether it was their senior year, sophomore year, junior year. We had a lot of them in camp. They all come from great families, great programs, when you look across the state of Georgia the Middle Georgia area had a lot of state champions, a lot of in-state guys’ championship games. Each one of those kids is going to contribute for us next year. We’re going to continue to recruit this area as well.”
And maybe soon, Smart will be able to bring a national championship trophy with him on one of these tours.