MARIETTA — University of Georgia football coach Kirby Smart asked a thought-provoking question Tuesday as he spoke during the 31st annual Cobb County Kickoff Luncheon, sponsored by the Marietta Daily Journal and Cobb EMC, at Roswell Street Baptist Church.
“I would assume that nobody in here gets to have a two-a-day practice, is that correct?” Smart asked.
The local high school coaches in attendance nodded their heads in agreement.
Before that question, the 43-year-old Smart, preparing for his fourth season at the Georgia helm, hearkened back to his middle school days when his father, Sonny Smart, was the head varsity coach at Bainbridge High School. The elder Smart invited his son to a weeklong football camp at Troy University in Alabama.
Kirby Smart was told to get his pads and his helmet and get on the bus.
“This was the greatest thing that has ever happened to me,” Smart said. “Little did I know that I was going to be the scout team quarterback for the entire week and practice with three times a day with older players who didn’t always like what my dad said to them.”
Smart said he had second thoughts about making it through that week of camp and about playing football upon his return. But he also said that the week was an impactful experience that helped him grow as a player, coach and person.
Smart then took the story to another direction by saying, “It was so much harder than it is now. The reality is what our kids are experiencing now and getting ready to go through.”
Instead of the routine August two-a-days or three-a-days, many teams are practicing in the mornings during the summer while taking part in 7-on-7 tournaments and other camps.
Smart also noted that summer practices in general are more tame than they were two decades ago, and he challenged coaches to find ways to make things a tad more difficult in order to build success and mold future leaders.
“I don’t care what position you have on your staff,” Smart said. “Challenge these guys. Challenge these young men in your organization or in your program because, if you don’t challenge these guys, I don’t know if there will be anybody else in this society who will.”
One of a few ideas Smart suggested was for coaches to have individual meetings with players just to sit and talk with them one-on-one.
Another idea Smart offered was to change the monotony and not have workouts be the exact same every day. He also suggested that coaches end practice with pressure situations.
At Georgia, Smart would end practices with one-minute drills to win a game. Lately, he’s been challenging his punter, Jake Camarda, at the end of drills to boot the ball inside the 10-yard-line or the team runs 10 sprints.
“For me, I like the fact that he ends practices with pressure situations,” Pope coach Tab Griffin said. “They seem to thrive on that, and we try to do some of that, so now I have to think of something at the end of practice that is pressure-related so our kids can get used to it.”
Smart also encourages players and coaches to write letters to a player or coach who have influenced their lives and shared an example of Peyton Manning writing him letters for helping make an impact in his stellar career with the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos.
Smart closed his speech by encouraging coaches and coordinators to develop their own lines of command. An example he gave was coordinators passing the call sheet over to a position coach prior to a scrimmage or a 7-on-7 game.
“I’m going to take some of the things that he said and go back and apply it,” Osborne coach Russ Isham said. “I love to try to groom my coaches and give them an opportunity to coach. I’ve done it a long time, and I think some young blood needs to get in there and have an opportunity to call some plays and call some defenses and create ownership.”