ATHENS — University of Georgia football coach Kirby Smart defended his program’s integrity Tuesday, dismissing suggestions he had failed to monitor his staff and players’ off-field activities.
“We’ve got complete control of our program and our kids in our program,” Smart said during a news conference that marked the start of spring football practice. It was Smart’s first public appearance since a series of transgressions culminated in a car crash on Jan. 15 that killed a football player and a member of the program’s recruiting staff.
“Do kids make mistakes?” Smart said. “Yes, young student-athletes make mistakes. They do. It happens all across the country. It happens here.”
But, he added, “there’s no lack of control of our program.”
The crash occurred hours after a massive celebration of Georgia’s second consecutive national football championship. Offensive lineman Devin Willock, 20, and recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy, 24, died. Another player, Warren McClendon, 21, and another staff member, Tory Bowles, 26, were injured. Along with other players, they were on their way to a Waffle House after leaving a downtown Athens strip club at closing time. LeCroy, who was driving, had a blood alcohol concentration more than twice the legal limit.
In the weeks after the crash, quarterback Stetson Bennett was charged with public intoxication in Dallas and linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson with street racing and reckless driving for a Jan. 10 incident in Athens. The police also questioned Dumas-Johnson about the Jan. 15 fatal crash.
Then, on March 1, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that star defensive player Jalen Carter, a top prospect in this year’s NFL draft, had left the scene of the wreck and later gave the police inconsistent accounts of the crash. He denied racing the other car, which investigators determined was traveling 104 mph in a 40 mph zone.
Hours after the story was published, the Athens police obtained arrest warrants charging Carter with street racing and reckless driving in connection with the fatal crash. Carter has said he will fight the charges.
The Journal-Constitution also reported that Carter was cited last fall for driving 89 mph in a 45 mph zone. At the time, a police officer asked him to warn other players to drive slower.
Smart said Tuesday he brought in police officers last summer to talk to the team about the dangers of speeding and racing.
“I’ve never been a part of a program where that’s something you had to repeatedly address,” he said.
But he said he does not monitor his players’ driving habits.
“I don’t know when our kids get speeding tickets,” he said. “I have no way of knowing.”
The football program employs a police liaison, Bryant Gantt, who regularly communicates with police officials when players get into trouble. Whether Gantt notifies Smart of incidents involving players is not clear.
Smart acknowledged Tuesday that some players had failed to live up to his expectations.
“Our job as coaches is to prevent that from happening, and that starts with me,” Smart said. “You do it by how you educate your players and how you discipline your players, and we will continue to do that at a high standard.”
However, he declined to say how he would punish players who get into trouble with the law.
“Do I have to define what that discipline is right now?” he said. “No, I don’t have to define what that discipline is. … They’re going to do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it. And when they don’t, they’re going to face the repercussions from that.”
Smart also declined to explain the circumstances under which LeCroy had possession at the time of the crash of a Ford Expedition the university had rented to transport recruits around Athens during the national championship celebration. University officials have said neither LeCroy nor Bowles was authorized to have the Expedition, but Smart recently told ESPN that no policy changes were warranted.
Asked Tuesday to describe the policies in place, Smart said, “It’s no policy or lack thereof policy that caused this accident.” Neither LeCroy nor Bowles “should have been driving (the Expedition), and that policy was broken,” he said. “And it should have been understood that you cannot take a vehicle when you’re not doing your duties, and they were not participating in their duties at that time.”
A full half of Smart’s news conference was devoted to the fatal crash and other off-field incidents. He addressed the crash in his opening remarks, describing it as a “tragic accident.”
“Our players have been through a lot,” Smart said. " … It’s been a really tough go of it for them.”
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
About the Author