Kirby Smart ups donation to UGA to $1 million

Kirby and Mary Beth Smart talk about their charity work.
Kirby and Mary Beth Smart talk about their charity work.

ATHENS – So far at least, Georgia has not requested a pay cut for football coach Kirby Smart amid coronavirus-caused budget constraints. There may be no need because he’s already giving a goodly portion of his income back to the university.

UGA on Thursday announced that Smart and his wife Mary Beth have upped their donation to $1 million to the athletic association. They had previously pledged $500,000 along with former Bulldogs quarterback Matthew Stafford to fund a new social justice, diversity and inclusion program. Georgia said the additional funds will also be used to create scholarships for senior athletes whose final seasons were impacted by COVID-19, and to contribute to the expansion of the UGA football program.

“Mary Beth and I are where we are because of the University of Georgia, so we feel a duty to give back to the university that opened so many doors for us, brought us together and brought us home,” Smart said in a UGA sports communications release sent out Thursday afternoon. “The current moment presents unique challenges for all of us, whether that’s dealing with the ramifications of this pandemic or acknowledging and addressing racial inequality. We hope this gift can fuel positive change in both areas.”

UGA athletics administrators are projecting a budget shortfall of at least $55 million in fiscal year 2021 due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the altered football season and the lost revenue from reduced ticket sales.

Some SEC schools have asked coaches who draw significant salaries to take a temporary pay cut this year. Football and basketball coaches at Ole Miss, Missouri and South Carolina are among those that agreed to. At Ole Miss, all coaches, including assistants, making $100,000 or more, were asked in July to take a pay cut for a period of three to six months.

The University of Georgia and, by association, the athletic department, were spared across-the-board cuts this summer when Gov. Brian Kemp approved the state budget. Beforehand, there were fears of 10 to 15% cuts and/or furloughs. At the time, it was unknown whether UGA would resume for fall semester, which it has.

Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said he does not anticipate needing to cut salaries or furlough employees, but vowed to follow the lead of the university.

Smart is UGA’s highest-earning employee, earning about $6.8 million a year not including personal endorsements. He signed a seven-year, $49 million contract after the Bulldogs' run to a national runner-up finish in 2017.

But to give back to the university at the rate Smart has during his five-year tenure as head coach is unusual – and impressive. Shortly after accepting the Georgia job in 2016, he formed the Kirby Smart Family Foundation. Their organization already has given more than $1 million to more than 50 charities across Georgia.

“This gift is yet another demonstration of their strong commitment to UGA,” McGarity said in the news release. “Their commitments will enhance the athletic and life-skills training our football student-athletes receive, maintain our high standards for diversity and inclusion, and ensure that senior student-athletes derailed by COVID-19 face no financial barriers to return and finish their Bulldog athletic careers.”

Said UGA President Jere Morehead: “It is tremendously heartening to see former UGA student-athletes like Coach Smart and Mary Beth supporting today’s student-athletes. UGA prides itself on providing our students a world-class educational experience, and that experience extends beyond the classroom. The Smart family’s gift will help to address several important extracurricular concerns that are vital to the success of our student-athletes.”

Specifically, UGA said the Smart’s donation will be split between defraying costs associated with seniors who opted to return after their spring and fall sports that were canceled due to COVID-19. The final portion of the Smarts' gift will support the ongoing $80 million expansion project of the Butts-Mehre football complex.

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