ATHENS – Here’s what we learned from Kirby Smart’s first game week briefing as head coach: That Kirby Smart won’t be as nervous going into Saturday’s date with North Carolina as in any game as Nick Saban’s No. 2.
“The pressure I put on myself as (Alabama’s) defensive coordinator – if they have 70 plays, you have to call 70 defenses,” Smart said Monday. “You have to make more decisions than the head coach.”
So: Did Smart just trade up to an easier job? “Not week to week,” he said, swatting away that semi-whimsical question. Then he launched into another boilerplate bit about “the confidence in what we’ve done up to this point,” and any notion of levity at Smart’s Week 1 presser was smashed into a zillion pieces. Maybe Week 2 will be different, or Week 10, or Season 10. Then again, maybe not.
Think of Smart as Saban minus the mirth. Even when he was miffed, Mark Richt came across as amiable. You get the impression that if Smart tried to come across as amiable, he’d still sound miffed. Esteemed colleague Chip Towers asked Smart about linebacker Lorenzo Carter – “who seems to be a personal project of yours,” the Chipster averred – and Smart bristled.
“Those are your words,” he said. (So maybe Lorenzo Carter is really Chip Towers’ personal project.)
Someone asked Smart about the last time Georgia played in the Dome, a titanic tilt with an unforgettable finish. As Alabama’s DC on a day that ended with C.J. Mosley batting Aaron Murray’s pass on first-and-goal into the hands of a stumbling Chris Conley, Smart might have mentioned Mosley’s deflection or how freshman cornerback Geno Matias-Smith, who’s from Atlanta, was supposed to have blitzed alongside Mosley but wound up double-teaming Conley. (“Know the funny part about that play?,” he might have said.)
Instead Smart mentioned something about the people on the other sideline – presumably he meant Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, once a Bulldog teammate and a longtime buddy – but he failed to mention Bobo by name and moved on to the next question and next non-answer.
I get it, OK? Smart wasn’t hired to entertain us media types. He was hired to win more games than Richt, which won’t be easy. And if Smart isn’t Henny Youngman by nature – over the years, I’ve gotten the sense he isn’t – there’s no sense in him trying to be. But a touch of humanity now and then never hurts. This Spawn-of-Saban thing only figures to remind us that he’s not quite Saban, who (very occasionally and never for long) will play off his image as King of Grumps.
Which brings us to all the other things we learned from Smart’s Week 1 presser, which would be: Nothing. No word on who’ll start at quarterback, not that anyone expected there’d be. No word on who’ll start at many positions. Georgia’s depth chart featured 21 “ors,” including three for Brice Ramsey — one at quarterback, a position for which Smart conceded he’s no longer in first-string contention, and another for punter and yet another for holder.
Students of Alabama lore will recognize this as another Slick Nick touch. The aforementioned Mosley, the best player on Alabama’s ravenous 2012 defense, was listed as a co-starter that season. Asked about the “ors”, Smart said something about “moms and dads reading the paper” and concluded: “Lots of guys deserve the ‘or.’ ”
But enough. Smart worked hard to say nothing and succeeded. Some guys can bring that off and still seem gracious. Smart isn’t there yet and might never be. But he’ll probably win 10 games this season, which would make him the most successful rookie coach in school history, and the first one should come Saturday. And if he brings Georgia a national championship, nobody will care that he’s not the jolliest of fellows.