MACON — Kirby Smart and Mark Fox began their rounds of UGA Days alumni association events by stopping in at Brother Stewart’s place here on the banks of Walnut Creek on Wednesday.
Stewart, an Anheuser-Busch distributor who owns Bibb Distributing, is one of UGA’s leading donors. His little slice of heaven here — also known as Walnut Creek Shooting Preserve — has been a regular stop in the coaches’ annual speaking tour. It used to be managed by the Bulldog Clubs of America, but now is overseen by the alumni association and is a donor-based event called “An Evening with the Coaches.”
But at the heart of it all is love of Georgia football and Smart came ready to talk it. This was his first such event in Georgia, though he started the tour in Dallas last month.
Unlike that event and previous ones, in which Smart kept his remarks short, Smart gave their money’s worth to people who paid $20 a head plus a mandatory donation to the school. He spoke for nearly 30 minutes including a question-and-answer period with fans. The coaches will do it all over again at another UGA Day stop in Columbus on Thursday.
“They’re great events,” Smart said during a short media briefing before taking the stage in a large outdoor pavilion. “UGA Day is a chance to publicize UGA and a chance to meet a lot of people. It kind of shocked me that I knew a lot of these folks and I get to be around them now. So I’m excited to get to be around the fans and get to talk to them.”
And the fans were certainly excited about being around Smart. He received an extended standing ovation as he followed two short alumni association speeches and a relatively short address from Fox.
“Coach Fox told me y’all would do that, but that you only do it one year,” Smart said of the standing O. “It’s good to kind of be the new kid on the block.”
Fox is no fool, either. He used a portion of his remarks to lavish praise on the new football coach. That’s somewhat significant considering he remains extremely close to recently-ousted coach Mark Richt, with whom he spent time last week in Miami.
“Not many people are named appropriately, but Coach Smart is,” Fox said. “He’s a smart man, and a good football coach, too.”
Both coaches joked that they were nervous as it is final exam time at UGA.
“I want everybody to pray for Coach Smart and me tonight,” Fox said. “It’s exam time and that’s always a nervous time for us coaches.”
Said Smart: “We’re checking our phones constantly.”
As for actual useful information about the football team, Smart didn’t have a whole lot to offer. He did comment on the recent tweets signee Mecole Hardman sent out volunteering to play receiver and give the Bulldogs “more firepower.” Hardman tweeted it after five-star, No. 1-rated wideout Demetris Robertson chose Cal over the Bulldogs.
“The young kid from Elbert County who likes to tweet? Yeah,” Smart said. “I’m one of those who believes you can’t out-scheme your players. He needs to be one of our best 11 players; if he is, he’ll be out there. But I’m telling you, he’ll have a lot to learn. But it won’t take us long to determine that.”
Beforehand, Smart was asked by the media about his philosophy on non-conference scheduling and if we was providing input to Athletic Director Greg McGarity on future opponents.
“To be honest, we haven’t looked way far out,” Smart said. “Some of it I inherited. … Will it change? Probably not. It’s important to me that you play a good non-conference opponent outside of (Georgia) Tech. I think that helps you. When you get to do that, I think it helps your program when you open with a really good team. I’m always in favor of playing somebody (like that) opening. We won’t get a chance to do that every year, we won’t get the venue, but when we get the opportunity, I’m excited to do it.”