Georgia football head coach Kirby Smart opened his first press conference of the 2019 season last week with this simple statement:
“Talking season is over,” Smart said. “It’s time to do more.”
Smart does not hide his disdain for the incessant — and seemingly increasing — wars of words between the end of spring practice and the beginning of preseason camp. He made that point in his opening remarks at SEC Football Media Days.
“Confidence is a word I think about a lot this time of year,” Smart said. “Confidence is not about speak, about words. It’s really about actions taken by someone.”
A veiled shot at Florida head coach Dan Mullen perhaps? Maybe so. But concerning himself with what opponents say is not Smart’s M.O.
More likely, Smart was just issuing a reminder to his players to stay focused on the daily challenge of getting better. Yeah, that sounds boring and trite, but championships are the product of daily habits that go unnoticed to the public.
The team’s mantra this year is that adheres to Strunk and White’s Rule No. 17 Elements of Style, the Bible of journalism professors: “Omit needless words.”
Georgia’s new mantra:
That diagrams about as simply as the quarterback sneak.
Smart, of course, is a disciple of Nick Saban, who himself is a disciple of Bill Belichick, who has one quote posted on the wall of the New England Patriots.
“Do your job.”
“I’m not a big quote guy,” Smart said.
Leave the rhetoric for others. They could talk about working harder in the weight room, about conditioning. They could pay lip service to being motivated to atone for that embarrassing Sugar Bowl performance against Texas. But Smart knows none of that will help when the Bulldogs travel to Vanderbilt at the end of this month to open the season.
Oh, the fans will have their fun. The countdown memes will continue for four more weeks. You know, as in, “We are (photo of Nick Chubb’s No. 27) days away from Georgia’s season opener. In some ways, the wait through August is the longest part of the offseason. Like the final week before Christmas when you’re 10.
Such a simple thought, yet such a profound statement.
“It’s a great theme,” Smart said, “because it’s simple.”
There’s not much more that the Bulldogs could do than what they have done the past two seasons. One play away from winning a national championship one season, one play away from returning to the College Football Playoff the next season.
If simply coming close were good enough for Georgia, Mark Richt would still be the head coach. Smart wasn’t hired just to win the SEC East. That national championship drought will reach 40 years unless the Bulldogs can find a way to end it this season.
“We understand how close we’ve been to taking the next step,” Smart said. “And although 24-5 the last two seasons is good, it’s not good enough. It’s not where we expect to be at the University of Georgia.”
Never mind even that two of those losses were to Alabama and two were on the road in the SEC (Auburn and LSU).
The Bulldogs begin preseason practice with few pressing questions. There are numerous position battles — outside linebacker, inside linebacker, offensive line, defensive line — but mainly because they are so deep it’s hard to delineate who should start and who will run second team. They will have at least two offensive linemen, maybe four or five, who could start just about anywhere. Yes, even at Alabama.
The one area light on experience, but not talent, is wide receiver. But a lot of programs would swap receivers with Georgia without hesitation.
This is the deepest and most complete Bulldogs roster in ages, maybe ever. They will open the season ranked No. 3 in the country. The two programs ahead of them, Alabama and Clemson, have won the last four national championships.
But that won’t matter if they don’t at least return to the national championship game.
So much has to happen until then. Their margin for error is minimal. The could lose a game and make it back to the playoff. But it would have to be the right game in the right way. They can’t afford to get manhandled the way they did by LSU last year.
These next four weeks will be spent establishing this team’s personality. That’s the unique nature of college football. Every year is different. Talent gives a team an opportunity and raises expectations. Whether the Bulldogs can meet those expectations is something not even Smart himself knows.
“When you think about training camp or preseason camp, for us, it’s about creating an identity,” Smart said. “So we’re trying to get effort and toughness, all those intangibles, and you can’t get all those in one day.”
Smart is right. Talk is as meaningless as preseason rankings.