Kirby Smart holds signing day press conference
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Kirby Smart holds signing day press conference

UGA Football
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. –  University of Georgia head coach Kirby Smart discussed National Signing Day with media Wednesday at the Butts-Mehre Building. Below are his comments. 

Head coach Kirby Smart

Opening comments … 

“I’ll open with the excitement around this signing class, which started probably well before this day last year. I don’t think a lot of people really understand what goes into a signing class, because most of these kids that signed — two or three years ago was the first time we met them, and it is a long, tough process. It’s a great day for these guys. Kind of anti-climactic with the early signing period. I like to think the early signing period is 70-80 percent what you sign, and this late signing period is more of an adjustment to what maybe you lost or early outs or where you think you have holes. So, we feel like we have been able to fill a lot of those holes. We feel like we have a very balanced class across the board — probably a little bit more out of state than it has been in the past. Also, probably a little less linebacker heavy. Those are the two areas, as far as outside linebacker and inside linebacker, that we probably didn’t feel like we had to have as much immediate help. Those will be huge opportunities for kids in the next signing class that want to play outside linebacker, inside linebacker, because now we do have holes to fill. 

One of the biggest areas was offensive line. With the guys we had leaving early and the transfers we’ve had, seniors, we knew and anticipated this being a large offensive line class. I’ve been very pleased with the transition from Coach [Sam] Pittman to Coach [Matt] Luke in being able to recruit these kids and bring them to our place. They want to compete and play at a high level, so the offensive line unit — I am really proud of that. 

I also want to take this time to thank everyone in our organization — I am talking about administration, I am talking about fans — that helped bring this signing class. The Notre Dame atmosphere was one of the keys to this signing class. The academic people at the University of Georgia who sacrificed their Saturdays and their Sundays and their countless hours. I don’t think people really understand that recruiting never sleeps. Everybody is fired up today and they are thinking that you can relax. 2021 — We have already had two or three junior days. We have already had a prospect to come in. We are doing phone calls with these kids. It has already begun, but this group really goes back to sacrifices that everybody made to give their time. It really takes a team effort when you have kids coming from Texas and California and all over the country. People have to sacrifice their time to give you an opportunity to sign players like this. 

We’ve got mid-year guys in who are working with us now.  I have been excited to see those guys work. They have done a tremendous job. To have guys that are at defensive back — I feel like we have a very complete defensive back class. I will always reiterate — you have to sign four or five defensive backs a year in order to stay where you need to stay from a depth standpoint. We were very unique last year. We were one of the only teams in the country to play over 37 players 100 snaps or more on the defensive side of the ball. So, a lot of players were playing and we need a lot of depth on that side of the ball. 

Wide receiver was an area that we had to address. I am excited about the wide receivers we have been able to make as an addition to this signing class, and those guys are expected to help us. With Justin being here now and also went through a couple of bowl practices with us. It’s been a big addition to get those guys. 

Getting a second back in this class was key for us. We are excited about this young man. We have known about him for a long time. He has come up through a lot of camps. He plays in what is probably one of the toughest divisions and regions in our state and he has played at a high level. You talk about the people he has had to play against — he has been a really good player. Talking about Daijun Edwards and then obviously Kendall (Milton) joined us mid-year has been a good addition, too. So, I am really excited about this class from an academic character standpoint, which to me matters as much as anything. But this class will be judged based on how they finish, not where they rank right now, which is not any concern of ours. With that, I will open it up for questions.”

On how Coach Matt Luke has transitioned into being at Georgia … 

“We’re excited about the offensive line class. First of all, it ranges from large and wide to a little bit lighter and athletic. These guys will have to develop. I have always said, the offensive line position is probably the toughest to come in and play right away if you just rank all the positions on the board. Andrew [Thomas] was very unique to be able to do that, but that is very rare to be able to do that at that position. These guys are going to have to develop, lift, work—what’s going to be unique for us is a lot of these guys maybe are going to be living across the two-deep just because our numbers are really down at the offensive line. These guys are going to have an opportunity to come in, compete and start, but they also will be going against guys this spring that are going to get better and grow. Coach Luke was a big part of that energy. Getting him on staff fast was probably one of the critical roles to that transition. It wasn’t a long time and a process where they had to sit in the unknown. Two, three days after Coach Pittman left these kids had somebody new to meet and [Coach Luke] getting to meet them before the middle dead period—the Christmas dead period—was critical to be able to communicate with them throughout that period and keep that relationship. He’s got a lot of energy, and he’s been a blessing for us—an addition that helps me from a head coach standpoint. It did help a lot with the offensive line.”

On signing Jamie Newman as a grad-transfer and what he brings to Georgia…

“We had researched the entire year with the thought that Jake [Fromm] would have the opportunity to come out early. We had a pool of 30 to 40 guys that would be potential whether they were transfers, whether they were grad-transfers, whatever it may be, we knew we could be possibly be in the quarterback market. That included high school kids. Certainly, we are excited about Carson [Beck] and what he can do for our team. He came in and got to practice with us for the bowl game, for a couple of practices as well. Once Jamie went into the portal and we knew that he was going to be a graduate-transfer we started communication, immediately. It was a process of finding out if what he wanted aligned with what we wanted, and also wait and see what Jake was going to do. I know Jamie has been very mature about the process. He is—these grad-transfers, number one, the fact they have graduated college and he graduated from Wake Forest, these kids understand what they want. They are very driven in what they want. They’re not really into the whole recruiting process. He handled it that way and was very professional about it. We are looking forward to putting him to work and letting him go out and compete this spring.”

On consistently signing a top-class in the country and how it will help reach the team’s goals … 

“Do I think this has something to do with it? Absolutely, it has something to do with it. What that ranking is? Or when that happens? Or how it plays about? I don’t think that necessarily correlates. I think that you having a complete staff, keeping your staff together and also being able to do it year after year is a level of consistency and a level of support that you are getting internally to make sure that we can do the things we can do. It’s hard to go out and recruit at a high level year in and year out because so many people recruit against you based on who you signed. You better have good product to sell which academically we do. Really, there’s not going to be a separation between one through 10 in these recruiting rankings that really matters. What matters when they leave is, number one, how many of them are present? How many have graduated? How many lives did you change? They’re not going to be judged just on wins and losses. They’re going be judged on what kind of people [they are] when they leave your program, because that’s what’s going to allow you to recruit the next kid. When Nick Chubb and Sony Michelle leave your program and do great things, that’s what’s going to sell to the next kid who wants an opportunity to come in and do those same things.”

On the importance of retaining the commitment of Broderick Jones, considering the loss of Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson…

“It was a lot more important a year ago to sign Xavier Truss. It was a lot more important a year ago to sign Warren McClendon because, when you have Andrew Thomas and Isaih Wilson, you understand there’s an opportunity for these guys to leave. I’m not a big believer that the next guy was going to walk in and play for Andrew Thomas. You have to plan these things a year out. We’re looking at this plan and saying, ‘Okay, these guys have to be ready to play, possibly next year, but really the next year.’ It’s the same thing at defensive back. We’ve got a lot of defensive backs coming back this season. A lot of them are some good football players, but we’re a year away from what could look like the O-Line because we have some potential guys coming. What you’re doing to develop the guys you’re signing now is more of my concern. It’d be foolish for me to sit here and think that two of these tackles we just signed are going to walk in here and play. You guys are going to print that, but I’m also a realist. That’s probably not going to happen, based on the history of the SEC. You do the study of how many freshman offensive tackles have played. That’s tough to find. It’s hard to do. They’re the athletic or the best guys, or we have injuries— those guys will provide us great depth, and I certainly think a lot of these guys we just signed are talented enough to come help us but they’re not meteor guys, and they’ll have to come in a compete for it.”

On the recruitment of Cameron Kinnie and the type of recruit offensive line coach Matt Luke is looking for on offense… 

“There’s no criteria We sign based on who gives us the best opportunity to be successful. We look at what kind of person they are. How are they academically? How are they athletically? How many positions can they play? There’s no size criteria, big or small, that we’re necessarily trying to change. That’s not the case. You’ve got to be able to pass break, and you’ve got to be able to run block. There’s not a philosophical difference there. Cameron Kinnie was a kid we targeted and felt like was, number one, extremely high character. [He is] extremely high academically and a really good athlete. He played both ways and played at the highest level of football where he played. We’re fortunate to get him to sign with us, and we’re excited about it. I think he’s a guy who is going to be a program player in that he’s always going to be doing the right things, on and off the field, and that he plays at a high level on multiple positions. This guy played 4I-techniques, played 3-technique, played center. I’ve got a lot of respect for the program he comes from and what he can provide to our depth on the offensive line.”

On the changes to his offensive staff with Todd Monken and how his presence contributed to recruit success…

“We’re excited about what Todd brings to us. As far as the recruiting process, he got involved in most of these late. Most of the work had been done on a lot of these guys. If you think about it, I think all of our wideouts signed early, so that was not a major factor in this recruiting class. and you think about it a lot out, like every one of them signed early. So that was not a major factor in this recruiting class. I am excited about this class, and I think that these guys are going to have an opportunity to grow and play at our place, and I’m excited to see what they do.”

On differences with the offense in 2020…

“I don’t know the answer to that. The roles on our staff still aren’t complete with an assistant coach spot open. I think that will play out as we go along. Certainly, I’m excited. I know the kids are excited for an opportunity and looking to see where that goes. I can’t honestly say right now. I think everybody wants to hear some grand speech opening this up and doing that. What you need is to be productive offensively, score points, and do explosive plays, which we talk about consistently.”

On previous interactions with Coach Monken…

“We really want this to be about our signing class, but Coach Monken and I crossed paths at LSU. He came in with Les Miles’ staff, and I was there for a month, or three or four weeks, before I came here. So, we were briefly on the same staff. We’ve crossed paths through our time at speaking engagements, recruiting on the road, the Southern Miss job, lot of interactions in different ways.”

On plans for special teams coaches next season…

“Like I just mentioned, 2020 staff roles have not been completely defined yet. We still have a staff spot available and really all options are still available on that.”

On the increase in out-of-state recruits…

“Two-fold there, probably. Number one, we had more interest from out-of-state kids. We had some national interest from players that came to camp and really performed well that in the past, we might have lost out on. We might have been second or third on a national kid that was a really good player. Say a Darnell (Washington), say a Kendall (Milton), say a Kelee (Ringo). But we won a lot of those. The other part is we lost some great battles that were really, really good players. So, I think the two of those merged to make that unique position where we would’ve taken the in-state guy or the out-of-state guy. It just so happens we took the out-of-state guy. But we’re excited for those players. There are a lot of good out-of-state players that play here at the University of Georgia. There’s no limitation to your borders. But we respect and understand how good our state is.”

On the personnel and coaching changes in the offseason…

“For me, with both coordinators going last year was much greater than this offseason. We’re still in the offseason, so all things are not done yet, so it’s part of the process. I think you being able to reinvent yourself, being able to reinvent your program, and also develop the players in it is what’s going to set you apart, make you different. We’re not completely done yet. This class doesn’t completely wrap it up. There’s still moves to be made for us from a hiring standpoint, moving people around. It’s a work-in-progress—constant improvement, constant growth. That’s what we’re trying to do. I think winning the Sugar Bowl was a big bump for us. It helped kickstart us into the second part of the recruiting season.”

On the role of character in recruiting a player…

“More each and every year. It should never be the only thing, but it’s definitely the most important thing. The older I get, the wiser I get, and the more you realize that chasing guys that don’t believe in the same principles and values of your university and of your program, they’re just not worth it. There’s too much time spent on guys that if you’re having to chase them around, it’s just not worth it. Take the guys that want to be there and go play with guys that want to be there. Number one, you’ll enjoy your job day-to-day. Your staff will enjoy it more, as will the other players. It’s very important for us.”


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