ATHENS – This was a good day for Kirby Smart, when it came to the underrated part of being head football coach at Georgia: The facilities race.
In the past, Georgia has been well behind. But on Tuesday Smart helped dedicate the long-awaited indoor facility, as Georgia officially became the last SEC program to open one. And that was shortly after UGA’s athletic board approved a massive and important, in Smart’s mind, renovation to Sanford Stadium, which will help in recruiting and playing.
“I certainly think we’re always playing a little catch-up when it comes to the people in our conference,” said Smart, who came to Georgia after nearly a decade at Alabama and all its facilities. “A lot of the teams in the (SEC) West, obviously, have had these venues. I think most of the places I’ve been at stadiums they have a recruiting room or a place to host recruits. So we want to try to catch up to that. But we also want to go beyond them. We want to do a better job and have a nice place for our player’s gameday locker room.”
That’s the goal behind the $63 million project that Georgia unveiled on Tuesday. It will move Georgia’s old and locker-less locker rooms to the west side of the stadium, and add a recruiting area adjacent to that. It will be convenient for Smart, his staff and the recruits, with the coach calling it “something we need to enhance our gameday experience for recruiting.” Currently and in the past, recruits were taken to the Lettermen’s lounge, a short walk from the current locker rooms.
“The biggest thing was just to be able to have a recruiting venue at your site, so that when kids come for gameday experience, you have somewhere to take them,” Smart said.
Then there’s the gameday experience for Georgia players. The current locker rooms don’t actually have lockers. Or showers. Players would have to dress before coming to the stadium, and now with Smart having them wear suits and ties to the Dawg Walk the players had to wait to get into uniform in the locker room – again, without actual lockers.
“It was just something we felt like we needed on a high-priority scale,” Smart said.
So Smart was happy about that being approved. But it won’t be ready for another 17 months, in time for the 2018 season.
The indoor facility, which previous coaches had long lobbied for, is not only ready to go now, but has already been in use.
It will obviously prevent more practice rainouts. Athletics director Greg McGarity, who was hired in 2010, joked at the dedication ceremony Tuesday that there will be “no more scanning weather.com.”
But football teams use indoor facilities for other reasons too, as Smart knows from his Alabama days.
Another view of the indoor facility during Tuesday’s dedication ceremony. (SETH EMERSON)
The biggest help, he said, may be in bowl practices, when it can get really cold in Athens, but the bowl game itself is at a warmer climate. (The Bulldogs did get a few late practices in the facility in December before the Liberty Bowl, which they won.)
Then there’s the summer camp practices, when it’s extremely hot.
“You don’t want to three straight days in 110 degree heat,” Smart said. “(Head athletic trainer) Ron Courson could tell you it has a traumatic effect on the body. So to be able to come in here, save the player’s legs, and still be able to do the things we need to do, it helps.”
The price of Georgia’s facility came in at $30.2 million. It looks nice, as expected, with giant pictures of Todd Gurley and Leonard Floyd book-ending profiles of A.J. Green, Jordan Jenkins, David Pollack and Matt Stafford.
When the project was approved, McGarity mentioned the desire for it to be the best in the country. Smart, when asked how it was different from other indoor facilities, mentioned the higher ceiling. That allows for more kicking, such as practicing timing in the kicking game. Older indoor facilities have lower ceilings.
The sound system also means they’ll be able to pipe in crowd noise to prepare for road games, rather than haul a sound system outside.
Last week Champ Bailey, Richard Seymour and other former Georgia players visited the facility.
“It was amazing to see their faces, because so many of them had practiced on this ground when it was grass. And it was hot,” Smart said. “And now it’s covered up and it’s a special place. One of the most beautiful in the country. That speaks volumes to our commitment to athletics, and also to football. It means a lot to our players and our team to be able to use it.”