As problems mount, Smart escapes accountability

Georgia coach Kirby Smart greets fans as players and staff arrive during Dawgs Walk before the G-Day game at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, April 15, 2023, in Athens. (Hyosub Shin /


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Georgia coach Kirby Smart greets fans as players and staff arrive during Dawgs Walk before the G-Day game at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, April 15, 2023, in Athens. (Hyosub Shin /



EDITOR’S NOTE: On July 19, 2023, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution modified an article that was linked to this column, including the headline, several paragraphs and a quotation. A portion of a sentence has also been removed from this column. The AJC explains the reason for these actions here.

You can see the off-field problems escalating for Georgia’s football program.

Four years ago, it was bar fights, minor traffic violations and possession of marijuana. Then it was habitual speeding and reckless driving by players, peaking with a street race that resulted in the death of two people in January. Now it’s UGA football siding with an accused player over an alleged victim who worked for the program.

Those are the latest revelations from the AJC’s deep and detailed reporting on problems in and around UGA football. At the same time those issues are increasing, Kirby Smart’s accountability is decreasing.

Four years ago, the Bulldogs coach blamed himself for the string of arrests by his players. Now Smart says nothing about his own culpability. He offers no transparency about internal discipline, which hasn’t include much missed game time by players and clearly isn’t working.

Smart, the state’s highest-paid public employee, seems annoyed that anyone would expect him to give details about the steps he’s taking to get his program under control. Athletic director Josh Brooks nods along in agreement. It seems that no else in power at UGA is going to hold Smart accountable for failing to do an important part of his job.

Each time Brooks and UGA president Jere Morehead are asked about the arrests of UGA football players, they say they trust Smart to do the right thing. Meanwhile, the wrong things keep happening in Smart’s program. It’s easy to see why, unlike in 2019, Smart doesn’t feel much pressure to do anything about it or even explain himself.

Back then, he’d just come off a three-loss season. That was disappointing because the Bulldogs had advanced to the College Football Playoff in the season before. Being introspective about player misbehavior was a way for Smart to reduce some of the heat.

There is no such incentive for Smart to take responsibility for his program’s off-field problems now. He’s won back-to-back national championships. College football is king here, which means the state is Smart’s kingdom. He’s left to deal as he pleases with some of his program’s issues.

The only thing that could threaten Smart’s standing is if he loses too many football games. We already know how a culture of winning above all else turns out in big-time college athletics. Does Georgia want to end up like Penn State, Baylor, Michigan State or other schools where systemic issues with sports programs were swept under the rug?

Eventually, those problems erupted into huge scandals of abuse and cover-ups that tarnished the reputations of universities. That can happen when an institution protects prominent sports programs at all costs. That’s the path UGA is on now.

Athens police are doing their part to protect the program, too. I remember how Georgia supporters complained when players on Mark Richt’s teams frequently were arrested. They alleged that Athens police had it in for the Bulldogs. That always was an absurd view.

Now we have extensive evidence that Athens police go easy on their “beloved Bulldogs.” Those are words of a detective during a so-called interrogation of UGA recruit (and now player) Jamaal Jarrett after a woman accused him of sexual assault last year. The session looked more like an attempt to help Jarrett than an investigation of a crime allegedly committed by him.

Of course, UGA football’s fixer, Bryan Gantt, was there when Jarrett was questioned. Police have allowed Gantt extraordinary access when Smart’s players are accused of crimes.

I’m all for due process. UGA athletics should protect the rights of athletes who face legal jeopardy. It’s not necessarily nefarious for Gantt to help players. I do wish that all people had the same assistance, and not just players who are making millions of dollars for the football program that pays them no salary.

But it’s improper and immoral if Gantt’s help goes beyond counseling players and he uses the power granted to him by Smart to influence investigations or oppose accusers. The AJC’s reporting shows that Gantt did both things when police arrested UGA linebacker Adam Anderson in 2021.

A woman who worked at the football office accused Anderson of sexually assaulting her while she was unconscious. The accuser watched as Gantt and eight UGA players advocated for Anderson’s release at a bond hearing. She told the AJC that she felt intimidated when Gantt stared at her.

That courtroom scene had nothing to do with due process. It was more like a UGA football production to intimidate the accuser. So far, no one associated with UGA has said it was wrong. All we get from UGA are carefully worded statements that largely avoid answering any details revealed by the AJC’s reporting.

Anderson’s defense attorney told the judge that he’d gotten Smart’s permission to have the players attend the hearing. UGA athletics denied that Smart “instructed or authorized” the players to go. Are we supposed to believe that a lawyer lied to the judge about the circumstances? Is it plausible that Smart told his players not to attend the hearing, but they did so anyway?

I wanted to ask Smart, Brooks and Gantt those questions and others. A UGA athletics spokesman said they were either out of town or unavailable to comment. Don’t expect them to talk anytime soon. UGA has taken the position that no one needs to answer questions about the ugly things happening in Smart’s program.

In some ways, it’s hard to blame Smart for shrugging off public accountability. Smart has financial incentive to resist stronger oversight of his program. He needs players to be eligible to play and help him win games to earn his salary, which is more than $10 million in 2023.

UGA guidelines call for automatic suspensions of athletes for certain infractions and allegations. Smart doesn’t want more added. It’s in his interest to send Gantt to help players when they are accused of crimes, including sexual assault.

Smart’s bosses could show more backbone in overseeing the football program. But, in some ways, it’s also hard to blame Brooks and Morehead for staying hands off. Going against Smart means going against the state’s most powerful politician. That isn’t good for the job security of employees at a public university.

If you don’t believe me about Smart’s political power, remember how he made some (unsupported) claims to lawmakers in 2016 about the state’s public-records law hurting recruiting. Weeks later, the Legislature voted for less government transparency. And that was before Smart had even coached a game for the Bulldogs.

It was a low moment that made our state look like a backwater that loves football more than accountability for public officials. It’s still looking that way, as no one at UGA seems inclined to do anything about the many arrests for football players. There’s no accountability for Smart’s failure to handle one of the main requirements of his job.

It’s probably going to take a lawsuit for that to happen. One already has been filed by the father of UGA player Devin Willock, who was killed in the Jan. 15 crash along with recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy. I’m sure more litigation is coming.

Maybe even that won’t be enough to force Smart and UGA to clean up their act. The school might decide that paying out lawsuits is a sound investment to protect the money and prestige generated by the football program, no matter who gets hurt.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart celebrates after their win against TCU in the 2023 College Football Playoff National Championship at SoFi Stadium, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Inglewood, Ca. Georgia won 65-7. (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz

Georgia football head coach Kirby Smart speaks to members of the press during a press conference at the Butts-Mehre Building ahead of spring practice, Tuesday, March 14, 2023, in Athens, GA. “We’ve got complete control of our program and our kids in our program,” Smart said. “Do kids make mistakes? Yes, young student-athletes make mistakes. They do. It happens all across the country. It happens here.” (Hyosub Shin /



Georgia's head coach Kirby Smart shouts instructions during the G - Day game at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, April 15, 2023, in Athens. (Hyosub Shin /



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