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July 17, 2018

Kirby Smart

Atlanta, Georgia

KIRBY SMART: Well, thanks, Greg. And good morning to you guys right and early here in our home state. Excited to be here. I first want to thank Greg and his staff. I don't think everybody really understand exactly what they do. I know I didn't when I was an assistant coach in the SEC, but to sit in the SEC head coaches' meetings and to manage 14 egos, pulling in different directions and I'm just talking about football, I think he and his staff do an incredible job of looking after our sport and our game. They're always looking ahead at trends. They're always looking at things we can do better. And I think the SEC is in, really really safe hands.

I would also like to mention his predecessor and mentor, Mark Slive. You know, I was very fortunate to come into this conference in 2003 as a very, very young assistant at LSU. I still remember going to the SEC orientation meetings that year, SEC assistant coaches' orientation meetings. And Mark Slive was in charge of those meetings. I still remember the first time meeting him. I think it's pretty incredible what he's done for our conference with the SEC Network.

He was thinking years beyond the rest of college football. And I just want to thank his wife, Liz, and what all they meant to the conference and what they've done. It's pretty incredible.

I want to thank you guys. I don't think you get enough credit for the job you do. I know a lot of people think it's just that time of year where we get to thank you guys. And we don't get an opportunity to do that. Today is an opportunity to say thank you for all you do. Thank you for all of the coverage.

I've certainly been a player in the SEC, a coach. For 15 of the last 16 years, I spent in the SEC I know the coverage we get is first class. They do -- you guys do a tremendous job, and thank you for that.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Directors' Cup, the Learfield Directors' Cup. And Greg McGarrity, our director finished eighth in that, the highest we finished in a long time. That's really all sports. I want to congratulate all of the coaches we have at the University of Georgia and all other sports who have done a tremendous job this year of putting Georgia where they belong.

Next I would move to the players I was able to bring with us, three guys that I light up when I think about them. Terry Godwin is a kid I've known since the ninth grade. I have watched him practice every year or play in baseball games since his ninth year in Hogansville, Georgia. He has a wonderful family. He'll be with you us guys today. He is just a bright-eyed guy that loves to practice every day.

Jonathan Ledbetter, likewise I've known him for a long time from Tucker, right here in the heart of Atlanta. He's a great kid. He has been through a lot in his career and showing leadership qualities for us and also a sports management major.

Last is J.R. Reed, unique you have a kid transfer from Frisco, Texas, very bright kid. Came in and had to sit a year while he was transferring, learning the defense, competing very hard. Played really well for us last year and was not afraid to step up and say things that needed to be said last year. We expect those same things from him. Here's a communications major. With that, I hope you get to spend some time with him and enjoy it.

The momentum we created from last season has been tremendous for us through recruiting, through spring. That wouldn't be possible without the players, coaches and our support staff embracing adjustments, change. It's not easy to go through that. After the first season going 8-5, we didn't change a whole lot, but we definitely demanded more. And I think when do you that, you got to have a staff. You got to have a group of players who can embrace that change. And they certainly have embraced that. We would not have created that momentum without that embracement.

This season for us is going to be simple. It's going to be the measure of potential versus effectiveness. And when I say that, a lot of people are like, yeah, every team has a certain amount of potential. I think potential is dormant ability. And I think effectiveness is what we get out of our potential. And we talk to our players all of the time, the pressure is really a privilege.

You should feel privilege to have pressure to win games, to have expectations. Everybody is talking about the expectations. Last year this time, they were talking about the same expectations for the University of Georgia. I went back and reviewed my notes for this event, and it was the same thing. Georgia is expected to do this, to win the east, to win championships.

Those are things we embrace at the University of Georgia. We can't run from those things. We know that. If pressure is a privilege, how you manage that and how you embrace that and our coaching staff getting the effectiveness of our players out is what's important to us. And that's really the key ingredient for us going into this season.

So it's important for us. We'll have a competition at an all-time high. I think our top 100 guys out there at practice in fall camp. We'll have the greatest competition we've had since my arrival. We may not have the most talent that we've had, but we'll definitely have the most competition.

And I think competition is what separates you. I listened to Jimbo talk the other day. He talked about the practice atmosphere and enjoying the camaraderie and competition in practice. The best battles I've seen in my career whether it is Miami Dolphins, Florida State, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, they happened on the practice field.

Everybody talks about iron sharpens iron. That's true. We're are going to have some of the most epic battles we have for who is going to the right guard, who is going to be left guard, who is going to be the starting defensive tackle. That's what drives us to have success is those battles that happen throughout camp.

I know a lot of you guys have already predicted starters. You already know how many returning starters we have. I don't even know that. I don't look at that and say that guy's spot is locked up. That's not the case. We can't allow complacency to slip into our program and slip into our staff because I know that will eat away at the core fundamentals that we started to believe.

And we had great standards set last year, standards set by a group of players that did a tremendous job, but embracing those players will be a challenge for this group. This group doesn't have to be Sony, Nick, Lorenzo, Isaiah, Davin, Roquan, they don't have to be those guys. They have to be the best them they can be.

We have to bring out the best leaders we can and let those guys come to the forefront. And I think we started to do that in our offseason program.

At this time I would also like to thank

President Morehead. I have already talked about Greg McGarrity for helping us keep our staff in tact. I think it's tough in college football when you have a lot of success, I think you've seen it the teams that have success, a lot of coaches have opportunities. A lot of members of your staff get opportunities. They help us keep that staff primarily in tact. Excited about the staff we got with the addition of

Cortez Hankton being our tenth assistant coach working with wide receivers. I'm happy with the staff and relationship with our players.

We've got some work to do in our secondary. We have got some work -- we lost a really good specialist last year with our punter. We got improved in that area, but we've got a lot of competition coming up this season. I'm really excited to sit back and watch that competition and see our staff work with these players.

With that, I'll open it up.

Q. Jonathan Ledbetter is a guy that you've really known a long time going all of the way back recruiting for Alabama at Tucker. He's had some crossroads you would admit in his career and here he is representing University of Georgia.
Can you talk about the personal journey that Ledbetter has made and why you see him as a team leader and somebody you want out front speaking for your team?

KIRBY SMART: When you talk about a guy that's been through a journey as you mentioned, I think back to the tenth grade year when he first committed to the University of Alabama when I was there. He's a really good player, a kid I enjoy getting to know. I know his brother and his mom really well. He's grown up a lot. He will tell you there were times of immaturity in his youth during the recruiting stages and even leading into his time at Georgia, but sometimes the life you lead and the experiences you encounter, they give you the ability to stand in front of people and talk from experience.

And I think our players recognize that when he speaks, he speaks from the heart. They see how he works. They see what he's been through. I think John Courson and our medical staff have done a tremendous job with Jonathan Ledbetter of embracing him and him growing as a player and a person. No better a person to listen to than a guy who has been through the trials and tribulations he has. When he says it, he says it with passion, and he leads the right way. And we want him to do that the rest of his career at Georgia.

Q. I know what Roquan Smith meant to your program last year and what a big part of your defense he was. You have a lot of competition now, especially at the linebacker spot.
I wanted to ask you about a specific player from my backyard and community at Madison, Alabama from James Clemens High School, Monte Rice. I wanted to ask you what you saw in him intangibly when you recruited him and then talk about his development as a player thus far in your program?

KIRBY SMART: First of all, Monte is awesome to work with. Every time you see Monte coming down the hallway, you see his face light up. He smiles before you say thinking. It's like he's happy. He's fired up. This is a kid that grew up in a community that embraced him.

I never had a kid that we recruited that so many families reached out on his behalf to tell his story. He's got an awesome story growing up there, and a lot of family members played, gone to school at James Clemens. He enjoys the game. He loves the game.

I'm tough on him. I'm very intense in practice. Last year, sometimes, you forget he's a freshman because he came in midyear. Here's a kid that comes in midyear, embraces the role of being a linebacker behind Roquan. He learned from Roquan. Those other players really embraced him. Then he comes out and makes a lot of tackles. The one unique characteristic he has is he can run. I think the linebacker position if you had to cut everything else, outside intangibles, you want speed. He can do that. He's an exciting player. I love working with him day to day. He's very serious about academics. And I think that embodies what a college student-athlete should be, and he's a great representative of James Clemens.

Q. Coaches talk about establishing their culture in the first year of a program. Specifically, what do you think you established in the first year at Georgia that kind of helped you in year two?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah. The first year was tough. I mean, there was a lot of maneuvering for players on the team to get accustomed to my style of leadership, our style of practice, our staff. That's not easy. Okay? That's not easy any time to have that transition.

You got older players who have done it a certain way for a long time, and that's tough for them to embrace that. I think that it was very -- it was a tough situation for us when we're having the indoor built, and we have to practice away from our normal practice facility. There's a lot of intangible things that made it tougher on us, but what we never did was relent from what we thought the expectations were.

If a Thursday practice was supposed to be thud and full speed, that's what we expected it to be. And it didn't matter who we were playing or how we played the week before or what our current record was, you had to live up to that expectation. And there weren't enough players embracing that role and taking that on that that it was very demanding on us coaches.

Last year was easier to coach because I felt like some of the players took on that culture and that ownership, and they demanded. And now more and more of those guys are being more demanding, and they can understand the expectations of what a Georgia practice should look like.

Q. Coach, you talked about Terry Godwin, known him since the ninth grade. He was a guy like Javon Wims from last year. Having Terry come back, what did that mean for you guys and talk a little bit about working on his vocal leadership presence. What do you think about that?
KIRBY SMART: What was the last part?

Q. He spoke a little bit about his vocal leadership presence instead of leading by example. What do you think about that?
KIRBY SMART: Talking about Terry? He's a kid that understands the game of football, very elite hands. He understands the game of football.

You can put Terry in any position, and it works for them. He's been around football. He was well coached in high school, great baseball player. And he understands the game. His leadership in that room with wide outs has been tremendous for us. There's a couple guys in there that really do a good job as well. Mecole, Riley Ridley, Jayson Stanley has come on. That's been a really good group by committee.

Q. What are some of the different pressures that your players face now compared to when you played maybe?
KIRBY SMART: Different?

Q. Pressures.
KIRBY SMART: Yeah. The biggest pressure they feel is the social media pressure. We didn't have that when I played and finished up around '99. You didn't have all of the cameras on you constantly.

One of the greatest differences I've seen is what kids go through prior to coming to our program, the recruiting process. If you have three major media outlets and you have seven teams recruiting the kid, that's 21 different people talking to him about himself.

So all he hears about before coming is himself. We don't help that any as coaches because we recruit them. We're in constant competition to recruit kids. When they get to the university they choose to attend, it's a struggle to understand that it is a high level of competition. It is tough in the SEC, and there are a lot of good players.

So I think the difference now for these kids is that everywhere they go, there's social media. And they feel an expectation that they have to represent themselves on those social media outlets. Also the rigors of college football continue to grow with the media coverage they get.

Q. With Eason, Fromm and Fields, have you ever seen a better stock of quarterback in your career?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah. If we had all three of them, we'd be sitting pretty good. Eason is gone. He transferred.

With our situation, we have two quarterbacks that are both really talented guys. I am really excited about watching these two guys come out and lead our program and lead their units. They both have grown. They've both done a tremendous job of embracing that role, not only in the locker room, but out in the field in spring practice. And I think Jake and Justin are tremendous assets for our program.

Q. How often have you seen the game tape of the National Championship game, just a few steps from here?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah. We watched it and evaluated it as a staff afterwards. Obviously I see it on replays and different ESPN highlights. I got to watch it early with the "Get Up!" With Mike Greenberg. I thought they might open with the SEC Championship, but of course not. That's part of it. I think we embrace that as coaches. I think that's something that you guys think about a lot, but not really us.

We're on to the next year. We are on to the new recruit. We're on to the next strategy, whether tactical, medical or physical. We're constantly looking for the next edge to get the next edge for next year. It's something we don't have to rehash all of the time.

I think how players will use that experience to grow, and I think that's big for our program and understanding that if you do things a certain way, that you can get to certain places. We just have to be able to finish it when we get there.

Q. What's giving you confidence over the summer and spring that you might be able to mitigate some of the losses of experienced guys on defense?
KIRBY SMART: I'm sorry, I couldn't understand you.

Q. What's given you confidence in the offseason that you guys will be able to sort of lesson the blow from so many experienced guys being gone on defense this year?
KIRBY SMART: I think the biggest confidence is the work ethic we have. Our guys embrace the challenge. You guys keep printing how many we lost, and I think that helps us. This gives us the chip on the shoulder that so many people want.

We've had mental training, mindset training, talking about not being the underdog and being favorite. We were a favorite in a lot of games last year. How does that change your demeanor when you're -- the pressure you feel from being a favorite, there really isn't. Only pressure is what you put on yourself.

We have to go out and do what we have to do. Replacing those players is not something we talk about. It's something the guys with the roles, they have an opportunity to step up. That's part of being a good coach to me is saying, okay, what pieces of the puzzle are we going to put in what place. It might take three linebackers to fill the role of what Roquan Smith did. It may take a guy on first down. Lorenzo Carter played a lot of different roles for us.

Sony and Nick, I am so excited to watch these young backs who I had the fortune of watching in December in practice. I got to watch these guys, Holyfield, Herrien, Swift, I get to watch all of those guys. I'm excited to see them embrace this opportunity. I think the more you guys talk about what we lost, the more those guys say let me show you what I can do.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about the impact Demetris Robertson will have on the team and also give a little update on Deangelo Gibbs?
KIRBY SMART: The biggest thing I can update with Demetris is that he's chosen to come to the University of Georgia, and we're excited about that. I've known Demetris for a long time. He's a kid I recruited since the ninth, tenth grade in Savannah. I had a really good relationship with him through recruiting. He went past signing date. We got to develop that relationship even further when he decided to go to Cal. Him coming back -- we are excited to have him back in our program. We have a big need on our team, especially at the wideout position.

Losing Terry, Ahkil Crumpton, Jayson Stanley and some other guys that are younger on our team that have a potential to leave, we have to do a good job replacing them. That's what we're trying to do through recruiting.

As far as Deangelo Gibbs, he's on our team currently and working out with the team.

Q. Obviously, you learned from year one to year two as a head coach. What did you gain from year two that will make you a better coach in year three?
KIRBY SMART: You know, I think you always learn. I learned that from the best. Whether it was Coach Bowden,

Coach Richt or Coach Saban that you're always learning as a coach. When you're green, you grow. When you're ripe, you're ripe.

Every year you learn. I think going into year three, probably the biggest difference was being able to delegate certain things, saying here, Coach Tucker, you handle this, Coach Chaney, you handle this and being comfortable with that. I think that alleviates a lot of undue stress or pressure that might be on a first time head coach and being comfortable in your skin and saying you know what, I'll let him handle that and let him do that. That's probably the biggest difference in one to two for me and hoping two to three that that continues to grow because you have a staff for the purpose of helping you.

If you don't let them help you, what's the purpose of having them? They're a sounding board for us. They help me make decisions. I have a tremendous support staff at the University of Georgia.

Q. You recently added the title of assistant head coach to running back Coach Dell McGee. What does that mean and what additional responsibilities come as being assistant head coach?
KIRBY SMART: I think Dell has proven himself as a leader of young men. He did it throughout his career. This guy did in the Columbus area for a long time. I had a privilege of recruiting his high school for a long time and signed some of his players. I always had tremendous respect for Dell because he knows how to lead young men.

He doesn't do it in a loud boisterous kind of way. He does it in a way you want your son to represent the University of Georgia. He has a tremendous family. He is a father. He does a great job for our team.

With that role, it's increased position to be able to bounce things off, whether it is recruiting ideas, how we should do something. Dell is invaluable for me because I know that he can see things through a set of eyes that I can't always see them through. And I appreciate what Dell has done for our staff and what he's done for our program.

Q. Coach, Justin Fields, could you please talk about his development since he's gotten there the beginning of the year and what are your plans for him as the backup, how much playing time you think this?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah. Justin is a kid whose got tremendous ability. He's embraced and hungry, really came in wanting to learn right away. Took on those 15 practices head on.

As you know, he got thrown right into the second row. He's taken on the second team role quickly. And I'm excited about the things he's done. He gives us an element in our offense that we don't have. Excited to see what he can do.

He's going to come in and compete very similar to the way Jake Fromm came in and competed with Easton. He's coming in to compete and learn our system. He's made the players around him better. He's embraced the challenge of learning the offense, and he's a very bright young man.

Q. Coach, what lessons did you take as you led your team to the playoffs last season and how important are those lessons going to be for the players returning this year being in those high pressure situations?
KIRBY SMART: I think being in the SEC, we all know it's week to week. Humility is a week away. Every team you play has the ability to defeat you. I think you see that every year top to bottom, and people can say what they want about our conference, it's tough and physical and demanding.

Those rigors prepare you for the playoffs. It's going to be the same way. In reverse, those playoff games, that extra practice, and that time preparing, those media sessions and walk throughs, all of those extra games help develop your young players. Even when we are preparing for December and getting ready for Oklahoma, we're always looking to rep the young players and grow those guys. We hope that valuable experience pays off for the team coming back this year.

Q. Kirby, are you missing the young running backs? Of course you got a lot of talent there, but you lost tremendous leadership in Nick and Sony. You have Deandre, two freshman coming in. You have Herrien and Holyfield. How rare is it to get that kind of leadership from guys so young in that group and how important is to get that leadership?
KIRBY SMART: It's important for us to have that leadership and positive leadership. They can't get jealous of each over. Who better to model that, than the two they learned under? Those two guys are as good pair of backs of you will ever see. Herrien, Holyfield and Swift have had to model people to model themselves after.

It's important to think back how would Nick have handled it, how would Sony have handled it, and use that to develop leadership for themselves. I have seen enough to know they have ability. Those guys got a lot of carries last spring when Nick and Sony weren't carrying it. They have a lot of carries this spring. I've seen what they can do. It's a matter of can they put it all together with past protection and leadership and help with the offensive line the same way Sony and Nick help inspire those guys.

Thank you, guys, again, and appreciate all of the work you do.

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