Kirby Smart’s next challenge: SEC media days

Kirby Smart speaking at his introductory press conference in December.

HOOVER, Ala. – For seven months, Kirby Smart has been holding press conferences and doing interviews as Georgia’s head coach. What awaits him on Tuesday morning, however, will be unlike anything he’s faced so far.

And those who covered him for years in Alabama will be curious to see how it goes.

Smart gets his first taste of SEC media days, the gauntlet that sees coaches grilled room-to-room, culminating with an appearance in the main room, a session broadcast on the SEC Network and sometimes ESPN.

“I am anxious to see him in this setting – because we’ve never seen him in quite this setting,” said Kevin Scarbinsky, a longtime columnist with the Birmingham News and Al.com.

Smart, as Alabama’s defensive coordinator from 2006 until last year, didn’t have to do much press. Head coach Nick Saban famously limits his assistants’ interviews, in the “one voice one message” philosophy that Smart has copied at Georgia.

“I think he will do fine, but I think he will be a little bit nervous, and he will talk quickly, as he tends to do, and I think it will all be new for him,” said Cecil Hurt, a longtime writer for the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News, who has seen plenty of first-year coaches in the main room. “The new guys, whoever the new coach is, come in and they don’t want to make a mistake. They don’t want to get on the wrong side of somebody.”

Smart will get the inevitable Saban questions, as well as Georgia’s quarterback situation and the health of tailbacks Chubb and Michel. But they will also now surely include an angle he didn’t want: Off-field problems, with Jonathan Ledbetter’s arrest being the seventh for the team since March 20.

“And he can’t say, Well you’ve gotta ask Nick about that,” Hurt said.

Smart only did one press conference every year – Saban made the coordinators available once in the preseason – and then it was twice if Alabama made the national championship game. Which it did four out of nine years.

“Kirby’s always been, on the rare occasions when we’ve gotten to talk to him, he’s been thoughtful, engaging, intelligent, all the things you would want in representing your program. He just didn’t get many opportunities to do it,” Scarbinsky said. “So I am anxious to see how he does at that podium in that large room, because we’ve seen guys like Will Muschamp get up there and not do such a good job in their first opportunity.”

Muschamp was Florida’s new coach in 2011 when he did the SEC media days gauntlet, and was evidently nervous as he uncorked a long opening statement, and at “warp speed,” as Scarbinsky called it. Smart also talks fast, as does Muschamp, so there’s a lesson there.

“Kirby I think will be a little bit more composed,” Scarbinsky said. “Look he’s been in national championship games, he’s been at major bowl games every year. He’s been in similar settings, just in a smaller scale.”

Muschamp’s session in 2011 may have previewed a Florida tenure that was known for occasionally not being in total control on the sideline.

But having a good session isn’t always a precursor to success: Vanderbilt’s Robbie Caldwell stole the show in 2010, with a quip-filled session that left jaded reporters laughing. He wasn’t retained after going 2-10 in his lone year.

This also isn’t to make too big a deal on how Smart does on Tuesday. He could fall flat on his face and it won’t even be a footnote if he wins big.

“I think a lot of Kirby and I think he’ll do well,” Hurt said. “As I figured he would, he’ll get a recruiting bump. He’ll recruit well and people will get excited about that. And he’ll get, I think within reason a honeymoon this year, especially if he starts a freshman quarterback. I think he’ll be fine this year. I’ll be interested to see how he grows into it over time.”

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