DALLAS – Kirby Smart may still be picking up on some nuances of being a head coach, but he’s nailed a key to the speaking circuit: Start out by making fun of yourself.
First up on Tuesday night, it was in comparison to his wife Mary Beth, the former Georgia basketball player.
“She did wear her heels tonight, so she’s got me by about three inches,” Smart said. “I hate it when she does that.”
Then he alluded to the other man on the stage with him, UGA president Jere Morehead, who was once Smart’s professor at the school in the 1990s.
“When I was in college, I never knew that when I was in President Morehead’s class that every night I studied was critical to my success in the future,” Smart said. “He still has never said what grade I actually made in that class.”
The crowd, a group of alumni at this UGA in Dallas day, lapped it up. But these days, as Smart enjoys his honeymoon phase, would love pretty much anything the first-year head football coach had to say.
Smart spoke in the afterglow of his first crowning achievement as Georgia’s head coach, 93k day, as Georgia fans heeded Smart’s call for a full Sanford Stadium on G-Day.
“Perhaps the greatest thing that has happened at the University of Georgia in the past couple months is bringing Kirby Smart home,” Morehead told the crowd on Tuesday, adding: “Ninety-three thousand is just the beginning of a tremendous new era.”
Smart, given three more days to absorb the event, looked at it analytically.
“The crowd, a lot of them came to see a new quarterback, a lot of them came to see a new beginning, maybe some came to see Ludacris,” Smart said, and there was laughter. “Regardless of how they came, they came.”
But ever the head coach, whose job it is to worry, Smart said that now presents another problem.
Over the past two days Smart has been doing post-spring evaluations with players, on how they’re doing not only in football, but academically in the weight room. But he said something else has stuck out.
“What I’m noticing as I go through each kid is the enthusiasm, the reaction to what happened Saturday. It’s overwhelming to them, because they didn’t realize the support they actually have,” Smart said. “I think as coaches we have to do a tough job of selling: ‘So what, now what.’”
He repeated those four words for emphasis: So what, now what.
The danger, Smart went on to say, was “you can get caught up in the moment.” The full stadium has already “helped us tremendously in recruiting,” and the largest spring game attendance in SEC history will continue to help in recruiting.
“But for our kids we have to almost temper our enthusiasm, because for our kids they get caught up in the moment and think, OK we’ve arrived. OK, we’re there,” Smart said. “As coaches, that’s the biggest fear of complacency setting in, or thinking that we’ve done something.”
Smart said he was about two-thirds of the way through those in-person evaluations. One of them has been Nick Chubb, whose status for the season opener remains up in the air, according to Smart.
This night usually marks the beginning of the real offseason, between spring and preseason practice. But there are only five of these events this year, the next four back in the state of Georgia. This one was held in Dallas, mostly for fundraising reasons.
Morehead told the crowd that there were 329 students at UGA from Dallas. Smart, looking out at the sold-out crowd of a few hundred, offered what may or may not have been a joke.
“I had no idea the alumni that we have here in Dallas. The first thing that I’m doing when I get back is sending two of my coaches out here to come recruit,” he said.
There was more laughter.
At one point, as Smart posed for photos with fans underneath a rolling display of area alumni, popped up a picture of Derek Dooley. The former Tennessee head coach, and fellow Nick Saban disciple, is currently the receivers coach for the Dallas Cowboys.
Smart ducked out a back door promptly before 8 p.m. central time, flying back to Athens with Morehead, special assistant Mike Cavan, Mary Beth and others in the entourage.
Before he left, however, Smart had reminded the fans that this year couldn’t be all about G-Day. The season opener, Smart pointed out, is against a good program (North Carolina) in a big environment (the Georgia Dome).
“We’ve got a long way to go, and we’ve got a short time to get there,” Smart said. “It’s coming, and it’s coming quick.”