HOOVER, Ala. – Kirby Smart has been around college football for a good long while and obviously has a lot of friends in the business. So he had no shortage of advice and input on the occasion of making his first appearance at SEC Football Media Days.
But a half-hour before he was due up on the podium in the ballroom at The Wynfrey, Smart was still conflicted about his strategy.
“It’s funny because I’ve had a lot of texts the last couple of days from my peers and buddies,” said Smart, who declined to share exactly whom. “They all had their opinions. Some said to speak short and answer questions long; others are talk long and answer questions short. So everybody’s kind of got their opinion.”
As it happened, Smart went with the latter strategy. Following a list of talking points typed out on a piece of paper he placed on the dais in front of him, Georgia’s first-year head coach used 1,934 words to get through his opening remarks.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise as it’s the same approach that Alabama’s Nick Saban utilizes. And so far, a lot of what Smart is doing at Georgia looks a lot like what has been going on in Tuscaloosa the last decade.
As for the question-and-answer portion, Smart didn’t necessarily speed through that either. Only twice did he use less than 100 words to get one of his points across. And other than doing a miraculous job of never once mentioning the names of his three quarterback candidates, he did not avoid addressing any issue, some of which were more uncomfortable to answer than others.
Overall, Smart handled his moment well. He appeared considerably less nervous than he did at his introductory news conference last December, answered questions directly and spoke slower and more deliberately and without hesitation. Overall, gave the appearance of a young coach very much ready for what awaited him.
“They said there would be a lot of lights and a lot of people,” Smart chuckled. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from the SEC.”
Smart will certainly sleep well Tuesday night, as what all the coaches and players go through at this event is an exhausting endeavor. What Smart experienced in the main ballroom Tuesday was just a small part of his day, which began when he rose before dawn in Athens.
He had already met with one group of reporters before he took the big stage in the main room at a little at about 9:05 a.m. central time. From there, he and his players moved through various interview stations in what has become known as the “car wash” method of media consultation. At different times he was in a room full of radio and Internet reporters, at another point before television cameras and reporters, then he’d move through rooms set up especially for ESPN, ESPN.com, CBS and FoxSports.
A long pass through “radio row” on the ground floor was interspersed with various stops to do this that and the other thing. Matt Garvey of Peach Bowl, Inc., scrambled madly to find a high-top and track down his boss Gary Stokan so he could get a pose Smart and Stokan together with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game trophy. The entire scenario was negotiated with UGA publicist Claude Felton while Smart ducked into a second-floor bathroom and greeted Smart unexpectedly when he exited.
But Smart rolled with the flow. He seemed to be genuinely enjoying the entire experience and kept a smile on his face even as his journey entered into a fifth hour.
“I might not have been ready for this part, the endurance,” Smart quipped as he shuffled into place for another radio interview.
“Don’t judge anybody in this seat unless you’ve been in this seat yourself,” he said in the Riverchase Ballroom as he talked to the television folks. “In December I was given the opportunity of a lifetime, and I haven’t slowed down since.”
As he has at every stage of his coaching career, Smart made another good impression on Tuesday. He passed another test, if you will.
He knows much tougher ones await.