SAVANNAH, Ga. – In the words of the late, great Paul Harvey — ask your parents, kids — “Now, for the rest of the story.”
I was in Columbus on Monday for UGA’s Coaches Caravan stop there. On Tuesday, it’s Savannah for Stop 2 on this coach-speaking mini-tour featuring Georgia football coach Kirby Smart and basketball coach Tom Crean. So I drove from Columbus to Savannah Monday night. If you haven’t looked at a map, I’ll just tell you that’s a long way — 4-plus hours by car, which is how I traveled.
Fortunately for Smart and Crean, they didn’t come here the same way. They flew back to Athens last night via UGA’s plane, kissed their loved ones goodnight, slept in their own beds, then flew down here to the “Hostess City of the South.”
Tuesday night, Georgia’s coaches flew back home to Athens. I asked Smart for a ride after I walked out to my garage Monday and found my car’s left front tire flat, but he insisted all the seats were occupied. So I rented.
Anyway, it seems that my collection of observances from the Columbus proceedings touched a nerve with some UGA folks, particularly those who plan and organize these undertakings. I noted in my column Monday night that the event at the Convention & Trade Center in Columbus seemed lightly attended and somewhat compressed in overall length and depth of the program.
That was indeed the case. But, while there were a few more no-shows than expected, I’m told that it was intimate by design. That’s according to Matt Borman, Georgia’s executive associate athletic director for development (aka, chief fundraiser).
Borman and his staff organize these events, which aren’t to be confused with your father’s and grandfather’s Bulldog Club meetings. These functions aren’t advertised or marketed anywhere, Borman told me. They’re free and open to anyone to attend, but they’re essentially invitation-only events. The people who show up are UGA alumni and/or season-ticket holders — and their friends or children — who received an email telling them that the Top Dawgs are going to be in the area and they should come out and hang out for an evening.
This is not to be confused with the “all calls” of the past, where thousands of Georgia fans from all around were summoned to some massive venue to bark and whoop it up for their Bulldogs. This is what you’d call a “targeted audience.”
“We’re not trying to be more exclusive,” Borman told me Tuesday, “But we are trying to create a more intimate atmosphere for a group of alumni and fans to spend with our coaches.”
Case in point: The 10-minute speech that Smart delivered Monday night to about 290 fans in Columbus was just a small part of his evening there. Before that, he and Crean signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans who stood in line for that opportunity. After their speeches, Crean and Smart were jettisoned across town in Columbus to the Chattahoochee River Club, where they attended a dinner with – well, let’s just say – a very, very special group of donors.
In all, the coaches spent nearly six hours in Columbus, according to Borman. That’s why these get-togethers start at 4:30 in the afternoon. It’s more of a happy hour before the main event.
The Bulldogs followed exactly the same format in Savannah on Tuesday. This time, the Georgia entourage hustled 3.2 miles down the road to The Savannah Golf Club for a dinner with friends.
Georgia held three events similar to these earlier this year in Dallas, Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla. There will be a dinner-only function in Atlanta in July. And that’s going to be it for the year.
So it’s a change in times and philosophy for sure, but one that’s been gradually coming on for the last few years. And as one might imagine, they’re certainly nice affairs.
In contrast to what I saw in Columbus, the occasion Tuesday night was extremely well-attended, standing-room only in the magnificent venue known as Savannah Station. It’s a brilliantly repurposed and privately owned 110-year-old facility that used to serve as a stable for horses delivering freight to and from the port, I learned.
Attendees weren’t disappointed. They were whipped into a lather by the Energizer Bunny otherwise known as Georgia’s new basketball coach. Crean knows both how to promote his program and pay homage to the football program that pays the freight in these parts. Organizers are well advised to provide him with a sturdy dais for whatever stands in front of him will be duly fist-pounded.
Then there was Smart, in stark contrast. Adored for leading the Bulldogs to their first SEC championship in 12 years last season, he doesn’t need to say much to incite applause and barking. He’s more focused in his approach, hammering down on UGA’s attributes and needs and basically challenging the group to come through for him.
Just as he is on the recruiting trail, Smart remains a man on a mission. His stated goal is to make Georgia football the biggest and the best, whether it be on the field, on the scoreboard or, yes, in total square footage of its weight room.
“Every day, we’re competing for a standard at Georgia,” Smart said. “We’re trying to take this football program to a place we still haven’t gotten to.”
The targeted crowd loved what both coaches had to say. And as long as those wins keep coming, they’ll keep stroking those checks.