Everything Kirby Smart said at the SEC Spring Meetings

The Georgia head coach discussed a number of topics, including roster limits, the Jaden Rashada lawsuit, missing the playoff, and the future of the conference and college football.

The SEC held its spring meetings in Destin, Florida on Tuesday as the conference prepares for a busy 2024-25 in all sports. This year’s meetings may be watched closer than any that preceded it thanks to the impending arrivals of the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns and the recent NCAA settlement that may pave the way for revenue sharing with student-athletes. There is also a Georgia quarterback suing Florida. Oh, and Nick Saban is gone.

Now that the conference can no longer sit idly by while fans and boosters foot the NIL bill, raising revenue has become the focus as each program attempts to protect its bottom line. Without an updated TV deal, the schedule format of eight conference games is likely to stay. Roster caps are on their way, which could be set at 85, down from 120, eliminating valuable walk-ons.

As the head coach of the most recent national champion from the SEC, Georgia’s Kirby Smart has a lot of eyes on him this week. There are a number of topics that involve the Georgia football team that will be highly discussed in the days to come; there are also a few topics that involve some of the Bulldogs’ other teams that will be present for the annual meetings. Smart spoke to media members on Tuesday. Below is what Smart said in full as the Bulldogs are making their way through the offseason in preparation for September and another highly-anticipated season.

On what he liked about Jaden Rashada and if it was accurate that he gave Jaden his blessing on filing the lawsuit against Billy Napier

“Say what you will, he told me the day before they decided to do the lawsuit, and I told him that would be between his family and his attorneys. I’m not involved in it, Georgia’s not involved in it in any way.

But Jaden is a good football player. We knew Jaden when he was coming out. He’s got a good body of work. He’s had the ability to the play, which is really critical at the quarterback position. He’s actually played it, and he’s very talented. We’re happy he’s joining us and looking forward to working with him.”

On his thinking on potential roster caps and the possible elimination of walk-on programs

“Well, I think that’s what we’re here, right, to try and figure that out. I don’t know — I think there’s a lot of speculation and a lot of narratives out there that are loose and that may not be true. We’re here to figure that out. I’m not completely up to date and educated completely on where it is. I do feel strongly that roster spots are important and that walk-ons are important. Where that falls, that’s what we’re here to decide.”

On what it says about the state of things in college football to have a college football player is suing a coach for $10 million

“I don’t know if that’s accurate. I mean, I talk to Billy all the time about stuff like that. I don’t know that he’s suing a coach. I really don’t know what’s going on…”

The reporter points out Billy was included in the lawsuit

“Billy’s named in it, yes. But, again, it’s a sign of the times possibly. I don’t get really caught up in that. I worry about what’s in my little bubble at Georgia. That’s outside of the bubble for me, so I don’t really know.”

On if he found out about the lawsuit the day before it was filed

“Yeah. I mean, Jaden came and let me know that his group was going to take a lawsuit. Then I told him that was between him and his family and his attorneys, so they did.”

On how much tougher the SEC gets with Texas and Oklahoma joining

“Yeah, it’s extremely tough, the fact that they’re in our conference, they’re further away, they’re a powerful football team, they’ve got a great state to recruit in, both their coaching staffs are really good. Both Sark and Brent both have SEC-kind of experience with Brent being over in the ACC and coaching at Clemson, he’s played SEC teams kind of forever. So they both know the climate they’re jumping into. We think it makes our conference better, you know? Our brand extends further west. Two tremendous programs. When you add those two in, it makes the scheduling much tougher.”

On how much weight Nick Saban had in the room in these meetings and if Smart has more responsibility now

“Well I think we’ve got two new coaches in there now, so we went from 14 to 16, that itself brings more energy, juice, whatever you want to say, experience in Sark and Brent, but Coach Saban was one of the most veteran guys in there.

I think he’d been in the SEC longer than anybody, he had sat in those meetings more than anybody, and when you add the LSU and Alabama time together, it was very valuable. I think people relied on him for experience and knowledge, he’s very thoughtful in terms of what he comes up with and ideas to make football better.

I always respected the fact that whether I was an assistant coach for him or head coach alongside him in there, it was never about what was best for his team, it was about what was best for the game of football. Sometimes people lose sight of that with self-preservation.”

On Kirby’s 10,000-foot view on roster management and challenges

“I don’t know, I guess you’re asking about our current state, not the potential for what’s to come.”

The reporter says the question is open-ended

“I don’t feel that’s it’s changed. I don’t feel I’ve had a change in three years, so it’s been a little bit kind of the same for three years.

The management comes through what decisions you make, and what NIL requires to get a kid and we are fundamentally a high school development program. We want to sign high school players, develop high school players and grow them as men and retain our roster.

I think when you look across the country we’ve done as good a job of anybody of retaining our roster and not having to go wholesale into the portal, which is what I prefer to do when you talk about roster management.

But we put a lot of time and effort into our roster, and that includes our PWOs and our kids that maybe are backups, because we think their future says they’re going to be starters. So we want to grow and develop our players from within and not have to go through the portal.”

On a hypothetical playoff selection with multiple losses

“Do I think there are going to be teams in the playoffs with multiple losses? Yes. In the playoff, most certainly there is. How do you differentiate? I’ll leave that to the committees. That’s why we have the system we have. It happened yesterday in baseball. There’s a lot of debate about what teams get in baseball. There’s going to be debate about what basketball team gets left out, there is going to be debate about what football team gets left out. Ultimately, everyone has a chance to go out on a grass and go out and play and earn the right to be in. Somebody is going to be left out that probably shouldn’t. I try to control what I control. Because I can’t control what a committee or what someone thinks should be in. And we’ve had that with the 4-team playoff. There was probably three times where we were one of the four best teams but we didn’t earn it on the field. And so the same opportunity is going to present itself, it’s just going to be 13, 14, 15. You guys are going to debate a lot about it and I’m going to try and make my team better so they’re not 13, 14, 15.”

On if he was surprised Georgia did not get in the playoff in 2023

“No, not surprised at all. We had our opportunity on the field and that is what you can ask for. I don’t cry over it. I think we had a good football team.”

On if Georgia was one of the four best teams

“I don’t know. Not for me to decide. Didn’t get to play the others.”

On what Georgia got out of the Orange Bowl

“We got to practice 15 more times I think it was. Got to play some guys. We got to play our backup quarterback. We got the chance to finish off on a win. We had a group of seniors, or juniors in some cases that got drafted that walked off that field for the last time with the winngest record in the history of Georgia football and they felt pretty good about themselves. I really appreciate the way they finished and they set a standard for our younger players that this is the culture here. We go out and we practice really hard and we go play our games until the games are over.”

On the playoff expanding and how that impacts a 9-game conference schedule

“Nah. Again, I worry about it when it comes up. I think it’s a hot-button topic that is on y’all’s little memos that says ask the question about whether 8 or 9 games. I’m completely cool with that question. I don’t care whether we play 8 or 9. I don’t care one bit. If you tell me we’re going to get more teams in by playing nine, I vote for that. If we’re going to have a strength of schedule factor that says that these teams that play these really hard teams, they should be allowed to have two or three losses and get in, then I’m for it. If it doesn’t help us, than why do it.

I think the fan, the guy that is paying the ticket price, wants those games. I don’t shy away from that. I coached in the NFL for a year and I watched the NFL every year. At the end of the year, a 9-7 year is playoff-worthy. I’m not saying that is where we are headed where 9-7 teams are in the playoff, but we’re headed in a direction where you don’t have to worry about losing your entire roster when you lose one game or two games because they think it’s over.”

On if it makes sense for college football to move calendar-wise toward an NFL calendar to ‘grow the game’

“I don’t understand what the NFL calendar has to do with ours. The NFL calendar is nothing like ours. They don’t recruit. They don’t have calendar issues.”

The reporter clarifies the free-agency period and the portal

“We’re dealing with academics. We’re dealing with the fact that a semester ends at every school at a different place. I was talking to six coaches here today and they all have completely different academic calendars. That’s way different than the NFL, because they can unify and all do this one set thing based on a calendar. We can’t do that based on a calendar, because everybody’s, lie, trying to figure out a better way to set up their academic calendar, but an academic is set without football in mind. So that makes it really tough to follow.”

On parts of Carson Beck’s game that Beck can elevate

“Yeah, his leadership of the wideouts and the offense. He was in complete command of it (last year), but there were times I think he knows that he could say, ‘you know what, I can step up and be a bigger voice and a bigger leader.’ We had a lot of veteran players on that offense that had played a lot more than him. Now we don’t. He is the veteran that has played the most and has the most command. He’ll do a good job doing that.”

On if roster size has already come up among coaches

“There’s so many things that are going on right now. Like, all the questions you guys are asking, there’s not one thing dominating. Probably, in the nine years I’ve been part of this, this is the most anticipated meetings because there is so much left — not necessarily for us to decide – but for us to have input on. Some of it is beyond our decision-making process. So, there is a lot there.”

On the importance of walk-ons in the Georgia program

“Yeah, guys, I want to be perfectly honest. I don’t know that I even completely understand what’s being said and done. I don’t want to be remiss and be misquoted as, ‘Well, Kirby defends walk-ons.’ I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t defend walk-ons. We’re talking about something that just makes sense. Now, when you implement that known fact into some form of settlement that I don’t completely understand, I don’t know where that factors in. OK? But when you look at Dabo Swinney’s career, Will Muschamp’s career, you look at Ladd McConkey. You look at guys that have come to schools and then gone on to be successful football players, successful football coaches, successful at everything they do, they overcame the ultimate odds. I don’t know anybody who would be against having those walkons. At what cost does that bring us? I think it hurts high school football and football as a whole when kids can’t even dream about ‘what I might be able to do if I can’t get an opportunity.’ I think that’s a challenge.”

On if availability reports would be good for the SEC

“Again, all I know is we’re going to talk about it. I was just told that in the last 24 to 48 hours just like you guys were. Um, if it helps with gambling, then I’m all for it. If it’s geared for getting knowledge out there that people are trying to get from our student-athletes and it protects them, I’m certainly for that. I want to find out more about it, find out what the stipulations are, what are the time tables, what are we talking about? Because the NFL model obviously works for them. I don’t know what all this entails for us.”

On Will Muschamp taking an off-field role and takeaways from new defensive coaches

“Yeah, really excited. Both Donte and T-Rob have been tremendous in terms of energy and enthusiasm. It’s great having Will there to kind of coach the coaches, because it’s like you get your cake and eat it to. You’ve got Coach Muschamp there for all the value he brings in terms of wealth of knowledge, relationships, knows our team, helps me. So, I didn’t lose any of that. But I gained these two guys that are now on the team and do a tremendous job and they get to go out and go recruiting and Will gets to be around his son more, which I think is really important, too.

Thanks guys, I appreciate y’all.”

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