Kirby Smart discusses tragic crash, program culture and emotional struggles with ESPN

Georgia football-2023 NFL Draft-first round
Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart congratulates his players as captain and defensive end Nolan Smith (4) reacts during the second half of the College Football Playoff National Championship at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on Monday, January 9, 2023. Georgia won 65-7 and secured a back-to-back championship. (Hyosub Shin /

INDIANAPOLIS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart is earning every penny of the $4 million raise he received this past offseason, first winning a second national title and now working crisis management.

Smart, who will be entering his eighth season leading the Bulldogs, told ESPN reporter Mark Schlabach on Friday in the wake of five team captains being arrested since the start of 2022 that his program does not have a culture program.

“Absolutely not; I would say we’re far from it,” Smart told ESPN on Friday. “When you talk to people outside our program that come into it, they talk about what a great culture we do have — and we do an incredible job. Because I’ve got a lot of outside entities that come into our program and pour into these young men.”

RELATED: Kelee Ringo provides testimony on Georgia football program culture, Kirby leadership

Philadelphia GM and vice president Howie Roseman told DawgNation on Tuesday that “they are being trained the right way at Georgia as football players and as people.”

Roseman selected 2021 team captains Jordan Davis (first round) and Nakobe Dean (third round) in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Key 2022 team leaders have not held the same standard as Davis and Dean set.

Since the start of last season ….

• Defensive MVP of the CFP title game Javon Bullard was arrested for a DUI in September

• Offensive MVP of the CFP title game Stetson Bennett was arrested in January for public intoxication

WATCH: Stetson Bennett discusses offseason arrest, team culture and attitude moving forward

• Projected No. 1 overall draft pick Jalen Carter was arrested earlier this week on charges of racing and reckless driving related to the tragic Jan. 15 crash that killed two people

• Defensive team captain Jamon Dumas-Johnson was arrested last week for racing and reckless driving related to a Jan. 10 incident in which he and another driver allegedly evaded police.

“Do we have perfect young men and women and players? Not necessarily,” Smart said. “But I promise you this, that’s the intent: for us to grow these guys and get them better. And I feel really good about the culture within our program.”

It has been a taxing offseason for Smart and his two-time defending football program in the aftermath of the loss of offensive lineman Devin Willock and recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy, who were killed in the Jan. 15 crash.

The team celebrated its national championship with a parade and a reception one day earlier that Sanford Stadium.

Many players were out that night and into the early morning hours leading up to the crash.

“Got a call at 3 or so in the morning, (and) went immediately to the emergency room,” Smart said, recalling how he was notified of the deadly early morning crash.

“Probably one of the toughest moments I’ve ever experienced as a coach and a leader to see the pain in the faces of the players who had joined up at the emergency room that morning. Josh Brooks was there. You know, still remember the ER doctor telling me the news, and just one of the most painful experiences of my life.”

A toxicology report revealed LeCroy’s blood-alcohol level at .197, more than twice the legal limit. The police investigation, which remains ongoing, indicated alcohol impairment, racing, reckless driving and speed” were contributing factors per reports.

Departing Georgia player Nolan Smith broke down in tears at the NFL combine discussing Willock’s death, and Smart said returning players are also having troubles absorbing the tragedy.

WATCH: Nolan Smith breaks down in tears over Devin Willock’s death

“Inside our building, we’ve got 130 football players that are hurting and have been dealing with pain, and we’ve emotionally supported those guys’ mental health,” Smart said.

“We had several players that struggled to come back after the parade that have really dealt with this.”

The Bulldogs have continued their offseason training in preparation for the start of spring drills in March.

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