ATHENS — Slowly but surely, we’re getting to know Kirby Smart.
I mean, everybody knows who Smart is, certainly in these parts. Everybody knows he played at Georgia and coached with Nick Saban and has returned to his alma mater as head coach. But few really know who he is and what he believes in beyond a sound defense and kicking game.
Gradually, Smart’s personality is beginning to eke out, and I suspect we’ll learn more and more about him over the coming weeks and months. Of course, spring football practice is just around the corner, and that will afford us an opportunity to hear from him on a more regular basis. But, again, that will probably be limited to talk of offensive-line depth and linebacker rotation and the like.
Really, it’s away from the football field that we get to know these coaches. Tuesday morning, Smart was introduced to state legislators at the Capitol in Atlanta. I wasn’t there but, according to those who were, he spoke in both chambers shortly after Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich addressed the crowd.
According to AJC capitol reporter James Salzer, “He just told senators he was happy to be a Bulldog, to come out to the spring game, that kind of stuff.”
Short and sweet, and that would be in keeping with what we’ve heard from Smart so far.
Having seen and heard Smart in a few public-speaking settings so far, I’d describe him as a man of few words. He was one of the featured speakers at the groundbreaking for the new Indoor Athletic Facility last week and he stood at the lectern for 94 seconds. I wasn’t timing him, but I did shoot video and that’s how long it lasted, including an ovation.
Same thing with the athletic board later that afternoon. I’d say his remarks at the outset of the quarterly meeting lasted about one minute.
Tuesday night, Smart was in Macon to address the Touchdown Club there and it represented his most extensive appearance yet. Including a question-and-answer session with fans, Smart spoke for about 35 minutes. That’s according to my DawgNation colleague Seth Emerson, who was there and has filed several reports.
Soon, Smart will be on what coaches like to call the “chicken-and-green-beans” circuit. Almost every week from the end spring practice to preseason camp, Smart will be talking to a group at a banquet somewhere. A lot of times they tend to stick to the same script and tell to the same stories from town-to-town. But invariably their personalities start to bleed through.
Some might say, “I don’t care what kind of speaker he is; he’s here to win football games.” And you’d be right about that.
But here’s the reality: Public speaking IS a big part of the job.
In fact, if you go by Smart’s contract, $3.35 million of the $3.75 million he earns at Georgia’s falls under the “supplemental income” clause and is considered “as compensation for radio and television shows, programs, interviews and other other appearances and endorsements.” Also included in that clause is a stipulation that Smart make “no less than 12 appearances” as requested by the athletic association and “no less than 12 appearances at Bulldog Clubs and other fundraisers.”
Now any of us who have had to do any kind of public speaking know it is a learned skill and one that can be frightening at first and uncomfortable no matter how much you do it. Those who excel at it really have a special gift.
Whether Smart is specially gifted in this regard, nobody knows yet and, again, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. As defensive coordinator at Alabama these last nine years, he was not required to speak and, frankly, was prevented from doing so during the regular season just like all of Nick Saban’s assistants.
But the feedback from Macon on Tuesday was that Smart was “loose” and “funny” and relatively candid about most everything — except the quarterback competition. Certainly public speaking is something he’ll become more and more comfortable with and good at over time.
Of course, winning helps in that regard, too. Smart even joked about it Tuesday night after receiving a standing ovation.
“If we don’t win you might not even want me back,” Smart quipped.