ATHENS, Ga. - The day after Georgia's 54-48 win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, Bulldogs Head Coach Kiby Smart and several key players sat down and talked to the press back in Athens.
Here is the transcript as provided by the University of Georgia:
KIRBY SMART: I would like to open with compliments to the Tournament of Roses committee. They did a tremendous job hosting us. It was a great event. This is my second time being involved in the Rose Bowl. They do just an impeccable job of treatment of our team and hosting us.
Our transition has occurred kind of through the night. We were able to fly back last night after the game and took some time getting out of LAX and got back into Atlanta and got the buses back over to Athens and got a little nap in and then back to work today, beginning on what I know and respect is a really good football team in Alabama, and looking forward to an opportunity to play for a National Championship in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.
I think it says a lot about our conference and the competitive nature of it for two teams to come together and to play that are from the same conference and have put themselves in a situation to do something really special.
Our team is really excited. A very emotional game last night, which concerns me, and talked to the players immediately afterwards about not burning any more energy or emotion on that game and moving on. You know, Alabama had a little more sound victory, so they probably didn't burn quite as much emotion, although I know it was emotional to beat a team that beat them last year.
The focus moving forward will be on preparing for Alabama and what's a great program Coach Saban has got.
Q. I wondered about what you might be recall from when you first went to work for Nick Saban and got that job all those years ago? Do you remember what was going through your mind at the time and how badly you wanted that job?
KIRBY SMART: I really don't remember much about that. That's a long time ago. I don't even know, whatever year it was I went to LSU, '04 maybe. I'm not really sure. I just remember the interview in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, and Coach Muschamp, a good friend of mine, Will, connected us, and we met in the airport and visited. I had a lot of respect for the program that Nick had put together at LSU. I remember wanting the job, but I wanted the job because I was a GA, I didn't want the job because it was Nick Saban. I wanted the job because I didn't have a job, and it was my first career SEC job, so it was a great opportunity for me.
Q. Is there something about working on a staff under Coach Saban that is different than other coaching jobs in college football?
KIRBY SMART: I don't know that there is. I haven't been on many more staffs. I've been on a couple other staffs. I've been on an FSU staff, a UGA staff, an Ohio State staff, and I think all staffs got great continuity, at least the ones that won, you like each other. Winning makes you happier. I've been on some really pleasant staffs because I've been very fortunate to coach at places that have a chance to win. But I wouldn't say it was like any different than those staffs I've been on.
Q. You obviously had a lot of success in state with this recruiting cycle, but I was wondering what's the biggest difference you've noticed after this season with some of those recruits from out of state that are interested in Georgia?
KIRBY SMART: Well, I think any time you get to play on the national stage and get national exposure, it certainly helps. We've got a great brand. We've got Atlanta, Georgia, which is 70 miles from our campus, and there's a lot of access to the Atlanta airport. When you start talking about kids that want to play in the SEC, they want to play on the big stage, and they want to be able to get to and from home very easily, there's nowhere better to play than Georgia. So you're able to go to Philly and get a Mark Webb or D'Andre Swift or you're able to go get a Jacob Eason or whoever it might be because they want to play on the big stage and they've got great transportation avenues. It's a great education, too, so we're able to attract some really good students.
Q. Last night you talked about the defense didn't play well in the first half and then you go into the second half with the two overtimes. Did you change anything schematically, get more pressure on Mayfield, or just the guys themselves turning up their own intensity to have that good second half and overtime period?
KIRBY SMART: I think it was a combination of what you just mentioned. You know, we got more pressure. We called the game a little more aggressively. I thought the kids tackled a little better. We still didn't tackle real good in the second half, but it was better than we did in the first half. I really just think they settled down. It's hard to put a finger on why they weren't settled early. I know you could say, well, it was the Rose Bowl; well, it was Baker Mayfield. Yeah, we knew all that. And our team has got to play big in big moments and can't play what we call rat-trap and have mental errors, and I thought in the first half, man, we had a lot of mental errors and just really not indicative of who we are defensively, and I thought they did a much better job of staying in our style of defense, and it was not a lot of schematic changes as much as it was getting more comfortable with what Oklahoma was doing.
Q. In the kind of cutthroat world of college football, is it difficult to maintain friendships with coaches you used to work with like Nick Saban or anyone else?
KIRBY SMART: No, I don't think -- in the coaching profession, I think that me personally, the way I was raised and been around coaching is we take care of each other. We take care of each other's kids. We hire them. Coach Saban has hired probably 15 to 20 different coaches' kids that have either worked for him or he knew, and I'm the same way now that I get my opportunity. I mean, if anything, we take care of our own. We take care of each other. When a coach is out of a job, you try to help him get a job. When he's no longer working for you, you help him out every way you can.
The cutthroat part is more for media attention. Maybe you feel that way in recruiting or you feel that way to beat somebody. Yeah, you want to win the game for your players and your program, but I mean, it's not personal for me and their staff. I have a lot of friends on their staff. I respect their staff. It's not really cutthroat to me.
The competitive nature is to go win, but outside of that, they're good people.
Q. You mentioned something there at the top about how concerned you are about the emotions of that game, not letting it bleed into this game. What does, I guess, make you feel that your team will be able to respond with the right emotions going into Monday's game?
KIRBY SMART: Well, I mean, the best way to know is to look at the history of this group. I mean, they've overcome a lot of obstacles. They've had coaching change during their career; they've overcome that. They've embraced what we wanted to do. They've been through a lot of adversity last year, and a lot of this team that is playing this year played last year.
And then you look at this year, they've overcome losing a quarterback, they've overcome a lot of adversity, overcome a big loss on the road, and that's kind of who they are. I know they'll handle it the right way. I just think the management of that is really critical. We're playing a road game in LA, and to turn around the next week within seven days, I mean, you think about that --everybody talks about last year, but last year Clemson had nine days, but this is a seven-day, really a six-day turnaround to play a National Championship game coming off a game in LA. I think when you have one that emotional and you play an extra, whatever it was, two periods of overtime, you've got to be smart about your team and where they are.
Q. How do you manage that in that regard with these six days now?
KIRBY SMART: Well, you emphasize rest, recovery. You emphasize what we talk about all the time is getting your sleep, getting your dark hours, getting off your phone. A lot of our kids are on social media. Get in recovery, go to treatment, getting extra time to watch tape and spend it -- we're starting school this week, too, so that's another deal on top of our kids that they get to deal with. When you start dealing with a lot of outside influences on your kids' time, you've got to be smart as a coach and understand you've got to get the most out of them, but we've got to be smart with our practice time and our recovery time.
Q. I'd like to have you talk a little bit about D'Andre Swift from St. Joe's Prep who has been able to get on the field and do some things for you this year.
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, what an unbelievable kid, first of all. He is from a wonderful family. Their family is unbelievable, great two parents that have really raised him the right way. He's a very humble kid. He's come in and embraced the role of being on special teams, of being a utility back, has done a lot of different things. He's really bright. He's probably got the best hands on the team. You combine that with a really great low center of gravity, and you've got yourself a good ball player. He's going to be a force to be reckoned with in my opinion in the SEC for a long time because he's such a competitive kid and he's done really well in school, as well. So we're proud of him and think that coming from where he came from that school system did a great job, one of the most prestigious schools there is in the country.
Q. You mentioned Mark Webb. Talk a little bit about him because he was a great player coming out of Archbishop Wood here in Philly.
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, Mark was probably one of the most talented guys we signed in this class early on. He was making some plays at wide-out early in camp. We lost two corners to injury, and we really had to move him over to corner, and he's done a great job there. He hasn't gotten to play as much as I know he would like to, but he's going to be a really good football player. We are excited about him. He's playing on special teams. He's tough. He's competitive, good tackler. We're excited about where he's at.
Q. Just wondering with your guys having to spend a whole week out on West Coast time, what do you do as a coach to get them adjusted and reacclimated to being three hours ahead on the time scale?
KIRBY SMART: Well, there's no real good way to do it. We encouraged them while they were out there to kind of try to stay around central time if they could because you go to bed a little bit earlier, get up a little bit earlier so the transition coming back wouldn't be real bad, and of course a lot of our guys were getting tired early in the night, so they wanted to go to bed earlier, and their bodies were naturally getting up earlier. So if you just let that flow happen and you remain a little bit neutral, it's not as big a transition when you get back. So we're hoping today they get some rest and recovery. A lot of emotion spent last night, and you have a lot of adrenaline after a game like that, so it's not easy to go straight to bed. Just not easy to say, hey, sleep it off on the plane. We're trying to get them plenty of rest today and allow us to do some game planning, then get them back and we'll go back to work tomorrow to get ready for a big game.
Q. What's Charlie Warner's status with the leg injury, and can you confirm Dan Lanning hired as an outside linebackers coach after the playoffs is over?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, on Charlie Warner, still not sure of the verdict on it yet. It is lower leg, but we don't know the extent of anything more than that right now.
And then, yeah, I can confirm the hiring of Dan Lanning. He'll be replacing Kevin Sherrer, one of our assistant coaches, after the bowl game, or the National Championship game.
Q. I wondered if you'd address the perception the SEC was down this year; do you agree with that, or maybe it was just a very top-heavy conference?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, you know, I don't like getting into that subject. I think it's a matter of opinion. I'm not the expert of that because I don't watch all the other conferences. You know, I had the fortune of watching the Big 12 Conference because I had to go through all the Oklahoma film and prepare for that. But how can I be an expert on conferences that I don't watch play?
I will speak on the behalf of the SEC, that I think that it's extremely difficult week in, week out, because you've got really good teams, and everybody points to the fact that they beat up on each other and there's more parity -- outside of what Alabama has been able to do, there's been more parity in our conference in recent years. I'd put our conference up against anybody's, and I'm not doing that braggingly, I just believe in that. I believe that there's good coaches in this league. There's really good programs in this league. It's not to knock another league. I just think top to bottom it's one of the toughest conferences to live and survive in week in and week out. But that's just a matter of opinion.
Q. As far as coaching with Nick Saban for as many years as you did, you have to know his tendencies and strategies probably as well as anybody that goes up against him; where would that maybe be an advantage for you either in preparation or during the game on Monday?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I don't know that it's an advantage. You know, his tendencies and his strengths are recruiting really good players that are really big and really fast, and then you have to block them, okay, or you have to be able to run the ball against them or you have to be able to defend the wide-outs and the corner -- it comes down to a lot more than his tendencies because his tendencies are very similar to a lot of good coaches: Smart, good decisions, protect the ball, play great defense, kick your butt on special teams. There's not a lot of tendencies that he has that are just going to be ground-breaking to allow us a benefit. The bottom line is our players got to go out and we've got to play a really good football game to stay with these guys.
Q. And the last question, Nick told us earlier this afternoon that he wouldn't necessarily want two weeks between semifinals and finals, but given the travel, especially in y'all's terms, maybe an extra day might be in order. How do you see that going forward? Is six or seven days just too little?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, you know, it's probably a moot point now, but I do think that you deal with the hand you're dealt, and I do think in the future it would be advantageous or at least be smart to look into. But I think last year is more realistic, the nine days I was told they had between games. That makes sense. You're dealing with travel from all over; it's a little different. I don't know the reasons for why it ended up like it did this year, but we've known that all along, so it hurts as much the preparation for Oklahoma as it did this game because we had to be prepared for the turnaround. We were planning things out for this week even last week, which is tough, really tough mentally on a coach because you never want to look past anybody, but we had no choice but to do that.
It makes it really tough, and I know it's probably a little easier on the other two being in New Orleans, but it's tough on anybody. It's tough on these players when you add in the fact that we start school earlier than anybody in the country this week, and a lot of those other schools are not going back to school, so they won't have classes, they'll be able to have the kids over there all day, and we've got kids taking classes.
Q. Just wondering if you can speak to kind of the dynamic you have with Kevin Sherrer, still on your staff, and Jeremy Pruitt still on their staff. Obviously those two guys know each other and they're trying to kind of manage, I guess, two jobs to some extent, or are they not trying to do anything with that other job? You obviously went through that yourself. Can you talk about how that dynamic figures in this game?
KIRBY SMART: I'm not following you. Are you asking are they working for Tennessee right now, or how are they doing what they're doing? I don't understand what you're –
Q. Yeah, how do they handle that, and obviously I guess those guys have a good relationship, too. You probably can speak to that, as well.
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I've got a good relationship with Jeremy. I've got a good relationship with Kevin. They've got a good relationship with each other. Kevin has got a good relationship with Nick. There's a lot of relationships across the board. I mean, I don't – I really don't know what you're hinting at. I know that Kevin wants to win this game for the University of Georgia, and Kevin wants to finish something he was a part of. I think it speaks to his brand the rest of his career if he's able to win a National Championship here, and I certainly think Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy, all the kids he's coached for the last four years I guess it's been, and he wants to do well for those guys, and I'm sure Jeremy is the same way for the players that he recruited to Alabama.
I mean, I think both parties are working independent of each other knowing that on the recruiting side of things they're working together, and there's not a whole lot of recruiting going on right now with the dead period, but I mean, I went through that. I think you've got to separate what you're doing. When you're working for the game, you're working for the game. You're working for recruiting, you're working for Tennessee, and if you're professional about your job, that's not really a problem.
Q. You spoke of the emotional drain for your players, and I'm just wondering, there's been a season's worth of bucket list items this year from Notre Dame to Rose Bowl, winning the SEC Championship. How is your emotional tank these days?
KIRBY SMART: Oh, I'm good. I was ready to get out of there as soon as the game was over. I was running across the field as fast as I could to shake his hand so I could leave. I was ready to get back. Emotionally I'm excited about the opportunity. You can coach a long time and not get opportunities like this, and I've been blessed to be part of games of this magnitude and nature before. Obviously never as a head coach, but I know that every minute and every second counts, and that's what's important to me, and I want to make sure these players understand that, because a lot of them don't. They don't understand that 20 minutes with the media, 45 minutes waiting on a bus or two hours waiting in traffic, those all add up when you start adding them, and that's what's important to me is to lead these young men the right direction so they have the best opportunity at success as they can have.
Roquan Smith and Sony Michel
Q. Roquan, I wanted to ask you about your feelings about Jake Fromm when he first came into the program. It seems like he's kind of a galvanizing guy that people sort of are drawn to and got early respect, but I just wanted to get your take on Jake in that way.
ROQUAN SMITH: Yeah, I think he's a phenomenal guy, first-class guy. When he first got here, prior to him even being the starter, the way he carried himself was like a senior or something like that. It was pretty good, and just seeing what the guy has done is like -- hasn't surprised me one bit.
Q. Roquan, I'm sure you didn't get to see the Alabama game last night, but I'm sure you've heard about how they dominated that game. Do you see Alabama maybe as an underdog since they were kind of the last team to get in this four-team playoff and obviously took it out on Clemson?
ROQUAN SMITH: No, I don't see them as an underdog, I see them as a team in the SEC, so in the SEC any team can win on any given Saturday, whatever day the game is. No, I don't look at them as an underdog.
Q. How do you see Alabama?
ROQUAN SMITH: A great football team.
Q. A lot has been made about Nick and Kirby's relationship, and Nick said earlier these games aren't about the coaches, but for players, do y'all kind of buy into any of the talk that it's master versus pupil kind of thing or just kind of seeing how the two coaches prepare for this game?
SONY MICHEL: I believe it's more for Coach Smart and the Georgia football team as a whole. It's special for all-around players and coaches because we all work hard for the same goal in the off-season and throughout the season. In my opinion, I think it's special for the coaches and the players of the University of Georgia.
ROQUAN SMITH: And my take, just piggy-backing off of what he said, I think it's very special for the university, the players, the coaches because everyone put in a lot of work throughout the year and just to say one particular group is excited or happy or something like that, I think that would be shorting itself. I definitely think it's a lot of excitement, and it's for more in the players and the coaches and the fan base and everyone else associated.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the emotions that you had last night in the game and flying back to the other side of the country. What was today like, and is it going to be tough to kind of, I guess, have the right mindset? How much energy was spent, and how do you have to watch yourself and how do you prepare for this week?
SONY MICHEL: We were very excited. I'm sure there's still a lot of excitement around this program in the building, but we won games around here, so we know how to handle situations like this. We know our task at hand. We've just got to move forward. We've got a big -- a good opponent we're about to face, so I'm sure this team, this coaching staff knows what we've got to focus on from here on.
ROQUAN SMITH: I would say the same thing. There's a lot of excitement winning the Rose Bowl and whatnot, but the focus has to shift back to the bigger picture, and that's the National Championship game. I think everyone knows, and I think everyone knows that they have to shift their focus back.
Q. I actually had one for each of you. Roquan, I'm wondering, I don't know how much chance you've had to see Jalen Hurts, but what kind of stands out to you about him because he can make plays both ways?
ROQUAN SMITH: Oh, definitely. I haven't seen like too much but more so was going to hone in on that today. But yeah, from like just seeing games and whatnot, I think he's a heck of an athlete, can beat you on the ground, and he has a pretty solid arm, as well, to give his receivers a chance to make a play on the ball, in the air, as well.
Q. Sony, what have you seen from Alabama's run defense because that's obviously something over the years that they've prided themselves on a lot, and they did a pretty good job last night against Clemson's running game?
SONY MICHEL: That's what Alabama is known for, having good run defense, just an overall good defense. I'm excited for the challenge. I'm sure this offense is, the team is, and I'm looking forward to it.
Q. Talking about the emotion of that win and the logistics of getting back from California and back over here, are you guys in any way wiped out because of the emotional energy expended, and do you think there's any way that you won't be at 100 percent ready to go by the time you've got to play that game on Monday?
ROQUAN SMITH: Well, you know, that game happened -- there was a lot of excitement around and whatnot, but we just have to shift our focus back because the main thing is to win the National Championship, and we know that if we're not honed in and like doing everything we can in our power to prepare ourselves for that game, then we know we'll be shorting ourselves, but I definitely don't think -- I think we'll be 100 percent, though, for sure.
SONY MICHEL: Just to piggy-back off of that, the Rose Bowl, there was a lot of excitement, but our ultimate goal was to get to the National Championship, and I think that's everybody's focus. Everybody has shifted their focus onto that game, and I think everybody is prepared and ready to move on. I don't think any more energy was wasted on celebration. I think we celebrated enough, and we're kind of getting ready to move on to our next opponent.
Q. Roquan, talking to Coach Kirby, he said you just didn't play Georgia defense in the first half, good as the Sooners were. Something really changed the second half when their offense was held to 10 points and then the overtimes. Was it a case of schemes changing or did you guys just try to dial the pressure and play with more intensity? And then for Sony, the 75-yard run last night, it looked very similar to the 77-yard run you had against Florida this year. Was it the same type play or the case of the offensive line opening that hole real quick?
SONY MICHEL: That's the type of play, but we're a downhill team, so we run the ball. We've got plenty of plays running downhill, and our offensive line did a tremendous job blocking. Receivers did a tremendous job blocking downfield, and I think those guys just gave a lot of effort yesterday with their blocking, which made it so much easier for me to make that 75-yard run happen.
ROQUAN SMITH: Yeah, I would say we definitely had to make some halftime adjustments and whatnot, but we knew going into the game that that was going to create some challenges for us on defense and a lot of things. We were just missing assignments in the first half, and they were just taking advantage of it. We know we can't afford to do that when we're facing a team like that. And then the second half we just had to come in -- it wasn't more so changing the scheme, it was more so just doing our scheme to the best of our ability, and once we did that, we figured out that we can actually stop those guys on offense, which we knew all along, but we didn't show that in the first half.
Q. I don't know how much you guys can really talk about this yet, but with all the ties between the schools and everything, is it almost like playing a team that's a mirror image of yourself?
SONY MICHEL: As far as comparisons, I would just say we play hard-nosed football.
ROQUAN SMITH: I would say the same thing. Just two physical football teams. I wouldn't say -- we both do what we do different and whatnot, and we're just not the same, but I will say we both are very physical football teams and both protect the ball on the offensive side of the ball and play stingy defense.