Kirby Smart, Georgia football players speak out on team culture questions: ‘It feels like a slap in the face’

Georgia football head coach Kirby Smart speaks to members of the press during a press conference at the Butts-Mehre Building ahead of spring practice, Tuesday, March 14, 2023, in Athens, GA. “We’ve got complete control of our program and our kids in our program,” Smart said. “Do kids make mistakes? Yes, young student-athletes make mistakes. They do. It happens all across the country. It happens here.” (Hyosub Shin /

Kirby Smart began his press conference by speaking about the Georgia football culture. It has come under attack this offseason for a variety of reasons.

Smart and his players felt it was important to shed light on the team culture while acknowledging things have to be better.

“Culture is still growing,” Georgia defensive lineman Zion Logue said. “Coming from the inside, people questioning our culture, questioning our character is like a slap in the face sometimes. That comes with it. We just have to keep working and put our best foot forward.”

Tuesday was the first time Smart had spoken to reporters since the day after the national championship game. In the time since then, wide receiver Rara Thomas and linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson were both arrested, the former for a misdemeanor family batter charge and the latter for racing and reckless driving charges. Both players are still with the team and will face discipline, though what that will be was not disclosed by Smart.

Related: Felony charge against Georgia wide receiver RaRa Thomas reportedly dropped

Former Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter was arrested on racing and reckless driving charges stemming from the night of Jan. 15, when a car crash took the lives of Georgia offensive lineman Devin Willock and recruiting staffer Chandler Lecroy. The latter was driving a car that had been rented by Georgia for recruiting purposes, which she was not performing at that point in time. LeCroy had a .197 BAC at the time of the accident per the toxicology report.

Smart reiterated that LeCroy should not have been using the vehicle at the time. He also made clear that Georgia is doing everything it can to prevent more arrests from happening. Wide receiver Ladd McConkey made mention of the coaching staff being proactive and not reactive, while also bringing in speakers who could better reinforce some of the lessons he wants members of the program to learn.

“We’ve got complete control of our program and our kids in our program,” Smart said. “Do kids make mistakes? Yes, young student-athletes make mistakes. They do. It happens all across the country and it happens here. Um, there’s no lack of control in our program. I think our kids across the board will tell you that we have an incredible culture here, we have connective tissue that brings our team together.

“Our guys do make mistakes. That’s historically probably going to happen when you’re 18 to 22-year-olds. Our job as coaches is to prevent that from happening and that starts with me. You do it by how you educate your players and how you discipline your players and we’ll continue to do that at a high standard.”

Related: NFL decision-makers weigh in on what’s next for Jalen Carter following arrest warrant

The impact of the Jan. 15 is clearly still being felt by the program. “Do it for Dev.” has become a common phrase. Logue mentioned watching film recently and noticing Willock, stopping the 6-foot-5, 300-pound defensive lineman in his tracks.

Questions will continue to be asked in regard to the events of the Jan. 15 crash and what Georgia could’ve done better. Smart and his players know the spotlight is on them, not just because of the recent events but also due to their success on the field.

Being that Georgia is the two-time defending champion, the Bulldogs know they have people who are just waiting for them to slip up so that others can pounce.

“I think it’s important that if you’re going to play at the University of Georgia, you represent the University of Georgia the right way,” Smart said. “But I also think that these are young men that are going to make mistakes. I’m a big believer in education, helping them become better. It’s not just, does the discipline fit the behavior? Can you change the behavior? That’s really what we’re charged with, right, growing young men into adults, making sure they graduate, making sure they become better people.”

Smart in particular has come under criticism. Other than a one-on-one sit-down interview with ESPN, Smart had not answered questions on the matter prior to Tuesday. But Georgia still feels very comfortable in Smart’s leadership and his ability to instill the proper values in the members of the Georgia football team.

“The main thing is something happens, you learn from it. If you don’t, that’s when it’s bad,” Ladd McConkey said. “I think our coach has done a good job of setting us up the right way and putting people in our lives on how to do the right things and live. I think it (the team culture) is stronger than ever.”

Kirby Smart defends Georgia football culture

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