ATHENS — After five weeks of juggling two jobs, Kirby Smart finally has his full focus on Georgia.
Smart is hoping to build a championship team at Georgia like the one he left at Alabama. Since he was introduced as the Bulldogs’ coach on Dec. 7, he continued in his role as defensive coordinator at Alabama while working on the side to recruit and hire his assistant coaches at Georgia.
Alabama beat Clemson 45-40 on Monday night to win the national championship. Soon after, Smart was on a plane headed to Athens.
“It’s great to be home,” Smart said Wednesday. “It’s great to have one job.”
The hectic schedule didn’t allow Smart to spend time with Georgia players. He took care of that with a team meeting on Tuesday, the first day he could focus on one job.
That meeting allowed Smart to finally relax.
“I cannot explain how well I slept last night,” he said. “Number one that we won the national championship at the University of Alabama and to finish that the right way was a relief. … Then to get in this room yesterday and meet with this team, the University of Georgia team, my team. Everybody told me when I got to do that finally and it was the only thing I had to worry about, it would be a great relief, burden off your shoulders, and that’s what it’s been for me.”
Smart said addressing a room full of players as a head coach was “what I’ve always wanted to do.”
The one-month dead period with no in-person contact between coaches and recruits ends Thursday, so Smart and his staff will be busy leading up to the Feb. 3 signing day.
“It’s not a down time for me,” Smart said. “It may feel like a down time compared to what I have been doing.”
Smart already has calmed concerns that the ouster of former coach Mark Richt, who was hired by Miami, could cause major defections from the Georgia recruiting class.
Six prospects, including quarterback Jacob Eason, enrolled early this week and will participate in spring practice. Eason is rated by some recruiting services as the nation’s top quarterback prospect. Smart also landed top-rated tight end prospect Isaac Nauta, who also enrolled this week.
Alabama’s latest national championship may further strengthen Smart’s status with recruits. Though Georgia hasn’t won a national championship since 1980, it now has a coach who won four titles on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama.
“They know coming in that there’s a certain standard of excellence that I’m used to that they’re going to be held to,” Smart said. “… I think there’s proof in the pudding. We’ve got to use that in recruiting, and we will.”
In some cases, Smart may have to recruit current players to remain on the team. He said it will be “inevitable” that some players may not feel they are a good fit for his program.
“There’s gonna be kids who felt they were so loyal to (Richt) or that staff or some staff member that they feel they need to take a look somewhere else,” he said, adding he will try to “make sure they know they’re part of this family.”
Smart confirmed safety Johnathan Abram, who started four games as a freshman in 2015, is leaving the team. Smart said Abram’s decision was influenced by “some personal and family issues.”
Smart’s final game at Alabama was not a showcase for his usually tough defense. He said Saban still was gracious.
“He was very appreciative and supportive,” Smart said. “He told me that any way that he can help me, he wants to keep that relationship open. He’s always been that way. He is a developer of young men, developer of coaches, promoter of the game.”