ATHENS — The first brouhaha of Kirby Smart’s tenure at Georgia has arrived, and the first-year head coach decided not to wait to address it on Saturday. He brought it up himself at the outset of his post-practice media session, making a couple points clear:
A.J. Turman was not prevented by Smart from transferring to Miami or to Florida, because he did not want to go there. But the reason Smart put a restriction on Miami is he wanted to establish that it would not be an avenue for other Georgia players, now that Mark Richt is there.
“I wanted to set the precedent for the future that kids would not be able to go to Miami right away,” Smart said. “It’s very important that we understand that, and that’s pretty much standard operating procedure when a coach leaves one place, that a kid can’t go there with the coach. That’s important to me that people understand that.”
No other players have come to him expressing an interest in going to Miami, according to Smart. The only other player to transfer since Smart’s hire is safety Johnathan Abram, who ended up at a junior college.
Turman, a junior tailback, was granted a release this week but with restrictions on his ability to transfer to Miami or Florida. That means that if Turman wanted to go to either of those two schools he would have to pay his own way for a year.
But Smart said Turman told him that he didn’t have interest in going to Miami or to Florida, that he wanted to go to a smaller school near his hometown in the Orlando area.
Turman told the AJC on Thursday that he didn’t have any specific schools in mind, and would start contacting schools now that he had a release.
“Please understand that A.J. Turman is going to be able to go where he wants to go,” Smart said. “Part of the reason A.J. is leaving is he did not play here. He played two springs here and played pretty good, and we need A.J. Turman on this team. We tried to keep A.J. Turman on this team. But he is not being blocked to where he wants to go. Let’s make that perfectly here.
“Because he did not play here, and the person that was coaching him here is now there at Miami. So that has nothing to do with where he wants to go. He doesn’t want to go to Miami, he’s made that perfectly clear to me.”
It had previously been Georgia’s way to grant players a full release, which means they could transfer to any school without having to pay their own way. (They would still have to sit out a year per NCAA transfer rules, unless they were a graduate transfer or had another hardship.) But athletics director Greg McGarity, after meeting with Smart about the Turman matter, said the school’s “stance” on transfer restrictions had been “adjusted.”
On Saturday, Smart also said that he didn’t want Turman to leave. Turman had decided after last season that he wanted to leave, and Smart and the new staff couldn’t talk him out of it.
“I did not want A.J. to transfer. I felt like he had not given us as a staff a fair shot,” Smart said. “I told him I was going to talk to Greg about it, and express my opinions to Greg and how I felt about it. Greg realizes that the recruiting world has changed, he’s on the same page with me.”
Turman told the AJC on Thursday that he filed an appeal with the NCAA, but Smart said that didn’t happen.
“A.J. did not appeal anything. There’s some misinformation out there. He didn’t have to appeal anything, because we ended up granting him a release to where he wanted to go to,” Smart said. “So A.J.’s completely happy with the situation.
“Moving forward, where it’s more important to know that we will not release kids to SEC schools unless it’s a special situation. And we will handle those situations on a case by case basis. There are very few situations where you want a kid going to somebody on your schedule, or somebody in your league. That’s pretty much standard operating procedure. And the reasons for that are two or three-fold: You don’t want a kid being negative in recruiting when he’s at another place and you’re trying to protect the interest of your team and the rest of your team here. And you don’t want to have to play against them for obvious reasons. So we’ll handle those going forward.”
Smart was asked a follow-up question on Saturday: Did he see where it could be unfair to restrict players on transferring while coaches are free to move around?
“Certainly. And we would also say that when you restrict the kid they have an appeal process,” Smart said. “And in my experience, 90 percent of transfers are granted without restriction. The 10 percent that are restricted, they have an appeal process that they can go through, and it goes out of my hands. It goes to a committee that hears it, and they give him a result, and most of the time the kids win those.”