Georgia's Kirby Smart Handled 1st SEC Media Days Like a Seasoned Veteran

Justin Ferguson@@JFergusonBRCFB National AnalystJuly 12, 2016

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart
Georgia head coach Kirby SmartButch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Smart rarely talked to the media as Alabama's defensive coordinator. Under Nick Saban, he didn't have the weekly press conference obligations of many top assistants in college football.

When Smart walked up to the podium Tuesday morning in Hoover, Alabama, for his first appearance at SEC media days as Georgia's head coach, a lot of intrigue surrounded him. Would he be tight-lipped or overwhelmed by the bright lights and the big stage?

Twenty-six minutes later, the answer was a resounding no. Smart looked like he had been doing this his entire career.

"He may be a rookie head coach, but he sounded like a veteran," radio host Paul Finebaum said on the SEC Network broadcast of media days. "I've been coming to these things for a long time, and I've never heard a rookie head coach like that. He was brilliant."

Smart looked like a seasoned veteran of the SEC media circuit from the start of his opening statement, which stretched more than 10 minutes and covered everything from thanking his sports information director to breaking down the percentage of reps taken by his three competing quarterbacks in the spring.

It was an opening statement that rivaled those of experienced head coaches such as LSU's Les Miles and South Carolina's Will Muschamp in terms of length:

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But the meat of his time at the podium came in the Q&A portion, and Smart also handled that like a pro.

One of the biggest topics of discussion heading into the day was the health of Smart's two star running backs, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who are recovering from very different injuries.

Smart continued to be cautiously optimistic in his view of Chubb's recovery from the season-ending knee injury he suffered against Tennessee.

"Nick's progressed really well," Smart said. "Nick's working hard. I repeat that every time I talk. ... He's doing everything with the rest of the team as far as summer workouts. He may not do everything right away as far as tackling and scrimmaging, but ultimately he's got to gain confidence in that knee back. He's taking steps in the right direction."

It's a wise move from Smart, as he doesn't want any definitive statement to backfire on him by the time the Bulldogs play North Carolina in their season opener.

Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated saw the response as Smart possibly preparing himself for the worst:

Smart also skillfully sidestepped a recruiting question from a reporter who asked about the importance of Georgia commitments Richard LeCounte III and William Poole III "pitching the UGA program" to other targets during the dead periods.

"Well, first of all, I can't comment on those guys at all," Smart quickly replied before downplaying the hype surrounding Georgia's current standing in recruiting rankings.

Smart didn't back down from questions about the number of arrests of Georgia players since he took over as head coach.

Eight Bulldogs have been arrested this offseason, including defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter, who Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com reported would face a suspension in 2016.

"I hate that for them," Smart said. "Our team has moved on. It's very important that we don't make the same mistakes twice. That's a big part of improvement. We'll do everything we can with plenty of support from our athletic department to put things in place to help our players not make the same mistakes again."

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart
Georgia head coach Kirby SmartBrynn Anderson/Associated Press/Associated Press

A consistent theme throughout Smart's time at the podium Tuesday morning was the importance of building an overall championship-contending program at Georgia—something he took from his time under Saban at Alabama.

Smart said that goes beyond just the 11 players on the field.

"The biggest thing for me has been learning the difference between a team and a program," Smart said. "That's where I want to put my stamp at the University of Georgia. ... A team is a group of young men playing together. A program is the entirety of that."

Smart showcased another aspect of program-building Tuesday in Hoover. As the head coach of a powerhouse school like Georgia, Smart is the face of the program. 

Being able to handle his increasing amounts of time in front of the media with the same amount of poise and clarity will be beneficial to Smart in his efforts to turn Georgia into a perennial contender.

Smart looked like a focused veteran at the podium during his first visit to SEC media days. If that's a possible sign of how prepared he'll look on the field this fall, Georgia is in a great spot for the future.

All quotes obtained from SEC Network's broadcast unless otherwise noted. Stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a national college football analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.