GREENSBORO, Ga. – Kirby Smart was happy to talk some golf, his charitable endeavors, and even a little bit about lake life on Monday. But he passed on talking Georgia football, even though he did offer a couple of vague intimations on subjects of great interest to the Bulldog Nation.
Well, let’s just get those out of the way right now. Yes, freshman running back James Cook is on campus and, no, Smart doesn’t have a problem with what happened to quarterback Jake Fromm or how his left (non-throwing) hand came to be injured last week (water-skiing mishap). This is, after all, a man who has been pulling football players behind boats here on Lake Oconee for decades, and the last three years as Georgia’s head coach.
“We do what we do as kids,” said Smart, who has had a lake house here for the better part of nine years. “I did the same thing when I was playing. I don’t think you live your life scared and worried about that. You’ve got to be safe and take precautions, but you don’t let things like that control your lifestyle.”
In the meantime, Smart was here at the posh Ritz-Carlton Lodge on Lake Oconee playing the exclusive Oconee Course at Reynolds Plantation in the Bruce Arians Family Foundation Celebrity Golf Tournament. It’s an annual fundraising event benefiting foster children hosted by the former Arizona Cardinals’ head coach, who also has some property down here.
In fact, a lot of coaches have property down here on the little lake 50 minutes south of Athens. That’s a somewhat fascinating sidebar to Monday’s proceedings. Smart and Arians are not the only football coaches enjoying lake life in this part of Georgia. Actually, a couple of Georgia Tech guys sort of started the trend. Former Yellow Jackets’ head coach George O’Leary and his offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen were among the first to build homes down here. They were joined by their buddy Frank Beamer, the Virginia Tech head coach at the time.
“I think it was 1989 that we first came down here,” said the Beamer, who was among dozens of coaches participating in the event this year. “Wasn’t hardly anything out here but the woods, the lake, and that one Reynolds Plantation course.”
Smart, an avid golfer and boater, wasn’t far behind in discovering this retreat. He started making the drive south out of Athens on Highway 15 back when he was playing safety for the Bulldogs.
“I actually came here all through college,” Smart said. “1994 to ‘98 I had a good friend who lived here and we got to hang out here a lot. I was young then and liked it and enjoyed it and thought it’d be a great place to have a place.”
So, Smart built a place shortly after joining Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama and getting promoted to defensive coordinator. Saban’s a lake guy, too, but he’s a Lake Burton man, which is also in Georgia but a couple of hours north of Lake Oconee.
Anyway, while Smart wasn’t in the mood to get into the brass tacks of football, one of his former assistants was. Shane Beamer, son of Frank, found himself having to defend the words of his new boss, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley. Beamer left the Bulldogs after last season to accept a promotion as assistant head coach for offense for the Sooners. You may recall that Georgia defeated the Sooners 54-48 in the Rose Bowl to advance to the national championship game of the College Football Playoff.
Riley received some predictable hype-fueled criticism last week when he mentioned in an interview that he was certain Georgia wouldn’t be a top-5 defense if it played in the Big 12. You can bet that got back fast to Beamer, who spent the last two seasons as the Bulldogs’ tight ends coach. Interestingly, it was his mother he found to be most adamant in defending UGA.
“I was with my parents when I first heard it and my mom got all defensive – defending Kirby and Georgia,” Beamer said with a laugh. “She’s like, ‘you guys did shut them down that game!’ But I know what he was saying and I know he came right back and said it wasn’t a shot at Georgia. It was a testament to the offenses in that league.”
That’s a debate for another day. Let’s just say that conference tends to utilize a different overall football philosophy. They go faster and run more offensive plays than any league as a whole every year and never produce any top-5 defenses. So, duh. But Georgia doesn’t play in the Big 12 and isn’t going to ever. So let’s go ahead and move away from that moot argument.
Shane Beamer did provide a little insight on his departure from UGA. There was a narrative out there that the young assistant had no choice but to find a new address after last season. The reality is he is the son of a head coach and seeking to become one himself one day and is trying to position himself to be able to do that as soon as possible.
Becoming assistant head coach at Oklahoma allows him to improve on that. But he insisted Monday it wasn’t a cut-and-dry move for him.
“My family and I had an awesome time in Athens and it will always be a special place for us,” Beamer said. “It was hard – really hard – to leave. There was a lot of back-and-forth for about a week, trying to figure out what I want to do. But it’s neat to be able to come back and spend time here in the summers.”
Shane said he’s confident that Georgia’s tight ends will flourish under the guidance of Jim Chaney, who is moving over from quarterbacks to coach that group after handling the quarterbacks the last two seasons. James Coley has moved to coaching quarterbacks from receivers and been elevated to co-offensive coordinator.
“The group we had a Georgia was pretty special,” Beamer said of the tight ends. “I know they’re excited that the guy now coaching them is calling the plays. But it’s good. Obviously that’s his forte having coached them in the NFL. He was very helpful to me, particularly early on when I first got to Georgia, helping me since he’d been an NFL tight ends coach. He gave me a lot of tricks to the trade. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. He did a great job with Fromm last year … but it’ll be good for Chaney to get back in his element from his NFL days.”
Clearly there’s no bad blood here, not on the links on the lake in July. Smart and Florida coach Dan Mullen even posed together for pictures. Sensibilities will change soon enough as football season approaches like a Waverunner about to leave a no-wake zone. That’s what’s about to happen to Smart and all these coaches. SEC Football Media Days begins one week from today in Atlanta, and we’ll soon hear all we can handle from him and all the other coaches.
For at least one more day, it was all about lake life, golf, and some charitable work. Which is not to say Georgia’s coach is not minding the store back home. There is, as we know, a significant matter coming up on the recruiting front on July 14th. Of course, that’s always the case, really.
“That’s what this is for,” Smart said, grabbing his smart phone out of his pocket. “It’s my mobile office.”
With that, Smart bolted for the practice range. He remains ever the competitor. It’s worth noting that his team included a three-time, world long-drive champion.
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