ATHENS — The Georgia football team is set to open the second half of spring drills on Thursday hoping to get back on track after a rash of off-field distractions.
Coach Kirby Smart has made it clear he’ll do everything he can to ensure his Bulldogs players avoid further criminal charges this spring after six were taken to jail and posted bond in the past six weeks.
But there’s also the matter of internal leadership, which to this point has been ineffective.
Georgia’s potential to win a national championship this season apparently hasn’t been enough to motivate some players to avoid putting themselves in bad situations.
Smart, however, has confidence he has good leaders, even if the uncharacteristically high number of off-field events does not reflect that.
“The sad thing is I really think that we’ve got great leadership on this team,” Smart said. “I don’t think a lot of our good leaders on this team can control some of these situations. And I think they’re disappointed. I think they’re frustrated.”
Championship teams typically have a large degree of accountability to one another, hence the “player-led” terminology.
But Smart seemed to indicate this particular group of leaders is limited to on-field leadership.
It could be a case of players on his particular team not spending as much time with one another away from the field as previous teams.
“Spoke to several of the guys that are on the leadership group after practice today, and they’re very frustrated and upset, as we are as coaches,” Smart said.
“I can’t sit there and say that we don’t have good leadership on this team because I’ll be honest with you, at practice the energy, the enthusiasm, a lot of the guys that are in that group have been better than in years past.”
The off-field issues, however, are numbering higher than any team in the SEC.
The image of Georgia football that Smart and his previous three teams have worked so hard to build is rapidly changing, fans from other schools taking note of the high number of arrests and flooding social media.
Smart knows better than anyone that recruits and their families can see what is being said, and there’s a good chance he has talked to his young coaching staff about demanding more accountability in their position groups.
Smart has yet to take drastic action — none of the players who have been arrested have been suspended.
But on Tuesday, for the first time, Smart indicated he might consider removing a player from the team.
“I’m just extremely disappointed that we’ve got guys that won’t follow the rules and the law and make good decisions,” Smart said. “And if they don’t, they’re not going to be here. So they’re going to have to make good decisions.”
A serious tone has been set for the second half of Georgia football spring drills, and the next player arrested might ultimately force Smart’s hand to take action.