MODERATOR: We're now joined by the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs,
the 2017 Eastern Division Champion, Coach Kirby Smart.
We'll ask Coach Smart to make an opening remark, and then we'll take
KIRBY SMART: First of all, I'd like to give a special thanks kind of
from UGA to the Southeastern Conference. As a person that played in this
league for a while, the SEC commissioner Greg Sankey does a great
job. It truly is an honor to represent the Eastern Division in this game.
For us going into the second season, our goal was to take the next step as
an organization and improve across the entire program. I don't think you can
speed up the relationship process or the learning process. It takes time.
And to be honest with you, I think we learned a lot of lessons our first
season, a lot about our players, and I think they learned a lot about us.
I don't think we're playing in this game if we don't learn the lessons we
learned last year.
But those lessons, there are not a lot of ways to get to the top in sports.
Those are the lessons we learned. It takes what it takes to get to the top
of your division. You've got to believe that, and you've got to believe in
the process it takes to get there. We've taken a comprehensive approach to
building our program, hopefully building it the right way through recruiting
and developing kids the right way on and off the field.
I'm excited to have earned the right to be here. I'm excited for our
seniors, and I'm excited about this game tomorrow. It's a big testament to
our seniors. I think they've done a tremendous job leading this team
and this program back to where it belongs.
They get an opportunity to go out tomorrow and compete on what I consider to
be the biggest stage in college football, and I'm excited for that
Q. Kirby, many times coaching for Alabama in this game. Looks like it's
been beneficial to you as a first time head coach in this game
as far as preparation, logistics, and stuff like that.
I sort of think it helps having played in Atlanta in this kind of
environment, this kind of game. Obviously, a different building, right
across the street. I think the experience is invaluable, just being able to
control the emotions and have the kids understand it's another game, and
they can't look at it as much more than that because a lot of times guys
lose composure and don't make good decisions.
Obviously, it's a really important game. I wouldn't diminish the importance
of it. I just think that you've got to have a process.
You've got to have a routine that you go through, and we certainly have a
routine that we go through, and the kids are able to follow that and count
Q. Coach, you mentioned you can't speed up the process, but where did you
see the most improvement in your second season in this program
and building what you hoped to build towards it?
I'd probably start with the practice habits going from last year to this
year. I think there's a certain standard and a certain -- I don't know if
the right word is pain threshold, but endurance threshold where you can
handle a certain amount of practices throughout the season.
I think the kids embraced that more this year, and they understood the
importance of the way we practiced, and they bought into that.
It really helped as far as stamina, the conditioning of the off-season
program, and doing it the right way throughout the year and doing it more
consistent without the highs and the lows and giving a good approach to each
week during the season. I thought our seniors did a great job carrying that
Q. Kirby, how much have you been in this building before today? I don't
know if you've walked out on the field yet. How do you --
is it easy to block out that sense of wonder of what it looks like when
you've got a game to coach? How do you do that?
It's really easy for me, but it's not my concern. I'm not worried about
myself. It's the players. It's the young men who haven't been in a venue
I think playing in the Georgia Dome certainly helped last year to open in
that place, but this obviously is a step above that.
But, yeah, this is my first time. I mean, actually walking in here, I just
missed a call from Dan Quinn. I was hoping he was going to give me
on how to play well in here. But this is our first time being in it.
I know it will be the same way really with Auburn. Even a lot of our high
school kids a lot of times, they played in the Georgia Dome. So it wasn't as
much of a wow factor in the really good programs. But that's not the case in
So it's going to be beneficial to get to walk through and get to go out
there and get all of that out of the way. I can remember the experience at
Alabama going to Jerry Jones stadium. It's one of the only times we ever
went to the stadium before to get the TV screen, to get the large screen, to
get the wow factor out of the way, and I think that's important for us to
get that out of the way tomorrow so we can -- I mean, get it out of the way
today so we can get down to business tomorrow.
Q. Kirby, several times you've referred to this as one of the greatest
venues in all of sports. You were spoiled a little bit when you were at
but do you think people fully appreciate what it takes to get to this game,
into this game out of the SEC?
I think a lot of fan bases -- not a lot of them have been, but the ones who
have been a lot, they are spoiled. They take it for granted.
There was a time that the Bulldog Nation in Georgia took it for granted when
there was a run of however many years in a row they were able to come.
I don't think you appreciate that until you've lost it.
Certainly as coaches, we know the challenge it presents to make it here
because it's a tough road in our conference to go through it and be able to
come out of it on top. It's always a challenge, and that's kind of where
your goal starts each year is you know, if you have an opportunity to come
play in this event,
that you're headed in the right direction.
Q. Kirby, on a personal level, when you saw that Alabama had lost, did
you think, well, there's about 60,000 questions about Coach Saban
I'm not going to have to answer?
That's a great one, Mark. I didn't think that actually. My immediate thought
was how are we going to play better against Auburn? That's my first
that went through my head. Now that you say that, I can only imagine sitting
here today, if we were playing them, what the questions would be like.
Q. After the first game, you said you wanted your team to be more
physical. How did you accomplish that, or how do you accomplish that?
Is it more push-ups? Is it a mindset? How do you do it?
You put a rock in their shoe. You put a rock in their shoe, and they get a
little upset, and they get frustrated, and they play harder.
I wish there was an easy trick to it, gimmick to it. I think physicality,
number one, is recruited. I think, number two, it's developed. It's
It's built over time. It's not just a snap overnight. But I do believe this,
that we're a more physical team than we presented the last time we played
You can say that all you want until you actually do it.
Q. Kirby, wanted to confirm the exchange between you and Gus after that
game and what exactly was said there. I heard that he had said we'll see you
in Atlanta, to which you replied, I'll let Nick know you said that. And he
said, you do that. Was that an accurate portrayal?
That's pretty close. I don't know if that's exactly -- we were talking about
it today when I saw him. I said, you held up your end of the bargain.
He asked if I did, and I told him I never did. But he held up his end of the
bargain, and they got back to Atlanta.
I think Gus and them are doing a tremendous job. I've said over and over I
think they're one of the hottest teams in college football.
I've seen Gus teams, Gus offenses for a long time, and I have a lot of
respect for the job he does. I don't think he gets enough credit,
especially when he's got a quarterback/running back tandem and receiver
tandem that he's got now.
Q. You mentioned, since the last time you played Auburn, you guys are a
more physical team now. How can that be accomplished in two or three weeks?
I don't know that I've actually mentioned that, Dan. I think that our job
is to improve physicality. I don't think that you just snap your fingers and
have that happen overnight. I think some people have said, oh, you played
Kentucky. You were more physical. You played Georgia Tech. You were more
Well, they weren't Auburn, you know what I mean?
So the opportunity to present itself to do a better job getting physical
against a team you just played, there's no better chance than to go back out
against a team you played against and have an opportunity -- not many people
get that second opportunity. I think we're going to find out a lot about our
and how physical we are when we play a team the size and as physical as
Auburn is. And we're going to find out a lot more about it tomorrow.
Q. Kirby, do you see this, playing the same team twice, as a benefit to
You know, I think everybody begs to ask that question. I don't think it has
a great benefit or an advantage to anybody.
We know a lot about each other. We play each other every year. There's a lot
of knowledge between the two.
I think our players are familiar with their players and vice versa. We were
just talking about it over the luncheon.
I think the unique aspect, like Gus said, it's within four weeks of each
other. That's the part that's unique, and that makes it where you're a
you still have the memory of they ran these plays, they ran those plays. But
they've got plays they didn't run in our game.
We've got plays we didn't run defensively, offensively, and special teams in
So you always go back to that game plan, and you try to pull from those
things to get things that hopefully work better.
Q. Kirby, 24 hours or so before kickoff. Not knowing exactly what you're
going to see from Kerryon Johnson, whether he's going to play,
if he's going to be 80 percent. How does that affect your final
I don't think you let it. I've made a big effort to not let that be the
focal point because they have a physical offensive line.
They've got a really good quarterback. They've got speed at wideout. They've
got other running backs, and they have receivers they use like running
So they're going to find a way. Gus has always found a way to run the ball
some kind of way.
That stuff with Kerryon is beyond our control. It's not something we can
control, and we really focus on the things that we can control --
like what is our mindset? What is our demeanor? What is our execution level?
How are we going to play certain formations?
How are we going to play on special teams? Those are things we can control.
So I don't think we can let Kerryon's situation dictate to us how we
Q. Kirby, you mentioned that for the Georgia Tech game, that Nick Chubb,
the conversations you had with him and how grateful you were
that he was able to get some sleep now because this is why he and the other
seniors came back this season.
What were the conversations like as it pertained to games after that, the
goals they had to play in games like this?
Really the overall conversation with him and the point of that comment was
that was one of his sticking points. To see him come back, just what he went
through the end of the Tech game last year. But I think, obviously, the
goals of the seniors was more than to come back and beat Georgia Tech. They
wanted to put Georgia in its rightful place. They wanted to do it the right
way. And thus far, they've done a good job of buying in and doing what we
asked them to do.
I'm just excited to see them have success. I want them to have the success
they deserve tomorrow. That doesn't come without a price. That doesn't come
without a tremendous effort. That doesn't come without a championship effort
because we're playing a really good football team.
Q. Kirby, you mentioned Kerryon's status again. What have you seen from
their other running backs, not from a running standpoint, but as pass
blockers? Because other than Kerryon or Pettway, almost none of them have
reps in a meaningful spot as a pass blocker.
When you see either a Kam Martin or a Malik Miller or Devan Barrett
potentially back there, without giving away too much of your game plan,
how does that impact your thinking when you see someone who hasn't been in
that spot as a pass blocker?
I expect to see Kerryon back there, to be honest with you. That's what we've
prepared for. They've got other guys that block. Gus has had this situation
in the years I've gone against him multiple times where they might not have
had a feature back. They use other players. They've got Chandler Cox.
They've got good football players. They'll have somebody back there that can
protect if it's not Kerryon, but I fully expect it to be him.
Q. Just wondering if you had an update on Christian Payne and whether or
not he will available for the game tomorrow afternoon.
Still not sure. It will probably be a game-time decision, and we'll know
more as the game goes on today.
Q. Kirby, you talked about how walking through the stadium before the
game kind of helped get rid of the wow factor.
Is there anything else during the week that you do to prepare for a venue
No, not really. It's really not walking through the day of the game. It's
today. So we would go in there today and kind of get that out of the way
and give them a chance to see the venue. Most of our kids have been to --
most of the venues we play in, we see every other year.
But this year it's different in this circumstance, and we're allowed to have
this walk-through. So we thought it was really beneficial to do it.
As far as the week, preparation for myself or the team, not a lot different.
I mean, the intensity's different.
What's on the line is certainly different. But the preparation is very