BIRMINGHAM — Georgia head coach Kirby Smart brought the subject up Tuesday before someone else at SEC Media Days could.
Smart used his introductory statement during his time on stage at SEC Media Days to discuss college athletics’ new name, image and likeness guidelines. While Smart explained the first month of NIL has been a learning curve for his team as well as all the others across the country, he emphasized the new rules open a window of opportunity for countless student-athletes.
“Our young men in the sport of football — in all athletics, really — are getting an opportunity that has not been afforded to anyone before them,” Smart said. “You think back to the likes of a Hines Ward or a Champ Bailey at the University of Georgia, an AJ Green, a Todd Gurley, what they would have been able to do with NIL.
“These young men and women have earned this opportunity. We are so excited for them. The opportunities are really limitless.”
Smart added he doesn’t think NIL will “blow up college football” or cause any substantial change to the overall nature of the sport.
Smart stressed how valuable educating the student-athletes about any NIL opportunities, and he used an unusual example to demonstrate its importance.
Smart told reporters that Quavo, a Georgia-based rapper who first got in touch with Smart during the Bulldogs’ College Football Playoff run in 2017, messaged the Georgia head coach with NIL advice to pass on to his players.
“The first text I got was two weeks after NIL started, and he said, ‘Coach, please tell the players [to] be selective who they put their brand with. Don’t just do anything,’” Smart said. “He used the term ‘thirsty.’ Don’t be thirsty. Be selective in what you do, selective in how you handle your branding. You’ve got tax issues now you’ve got to deal with.
“There’s a lot of education that we’re doing in house to make this an advantage for our young men. That’s something that we continue to drive home with our players, and they understand.”
Picking from the portal
One of the big topics of discussion for Georgia on Tuesday was the team’s use of the transfer portal.
Few teams were as busy as the Bulldogs this offseason in regards to the portal, as Georgia added three highly-touted players in LSU tight end Arik Gilbert, Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick and West Virginia safety Tykee Smith.
Smart was asked about his prior insistence of only using the portal when a true need is present, and he explained how each of those players fit the bill.
“The first two, the defensive backs, we’re under our scholarship quota of defensive backs. We had two guys come out early, two guys come out of the portal. We’re at a deficit just from scholarship numbers, not to mention experience. Those two guys bring an immense amount of experience,” Smart said. “With Arik, anytime you can get a skill player that can do things with the ball, you’re always looking to be dynamic. You look at teams that have won the national championship recently: they’re most dynamic on offense and at the skill positions.”
Shortly after Smart spoke, Georgia quarterback JT Daniels shared his perspective.
Daniels, who started his career at USC before transferring prior to the 2020 season, was asked about what makes Georgia an appealing option to transfers.
“It’s really difficult to beat Georgia. Like when Georgia called me right away, I’m like that’s a top five team, it’s a great school, it’s a great staff, they have great players. Like, what bad can you say about it?” Daniels said. “I think coach Smart is — he’s the hardest worker you’ll meet, so any chance that he can get to give us an edge to win games he’s going to do. I think those two are some reasons I would contribute to Georgia being prominent in the transfer portal.”
The Vols start over
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel joined a not-so-prestigious group when he took the stage Tuesday.
Heupel became the fifth different head coach to represent the Volunteers over the last 13 SEC Media Days when he spoke and took questions. Heupel, who comes to Tennessee after three seasons at UCF, discussed the rebuild he is taking on in Knoxville and his outlook on helping the team become a contender in the SEC East again.
“I’m honored to be the head coach of Tennessee football. This is one of the great and iconic logos in all of college football, steeped in tradition. It’s a great honor to be the caretaker of Tennessee football at this time and really proud of what our players and our staff have done in six months,” Heupel said. “The first priority when I and our staff got to Tennessee was about relationships, and it still is today. That will be the foundation of everything that we do inside of our program, but that came through a conversation with our players.”
Heupel pointed out he arrived at Oklahoma in 1999 as a player in a Sooners program that hadn’t been to a bowl game for five years, and within two years the team was national champions. He stressed the importance of having the right alignment from the university president to the chancellor to the athletic director to the head coach along with having the right people throughout the program.
Keeping Kentucky competitive
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has quietly become one of the fixtures in the SEC.
Stoops is on the verge of beginning his ninth season with the Wildcats, which would make him the team’s longest-tenured Kentucky head coach since Fran Curci from 1973-81.
Stoops has brought much-needed stability to the Wildcats program — the team has had four winning seasons in its last five seasons — but he said doesn’t put much thought into being the second-longest tenured SEC coach behind only Alabama’s Nick Saban.
“Like I said, I think [about being] grateful. You really don’t think about it until you start preparing these statements for something of that nature — talking about being here nine years,” Stoops said. “I don’t know, you don’t really think about it until you get here and start thinking about everybody. I want to put my head down at Kentucky and continue to work so I’m here next year. But also I really want to continue to grow this program.”
Corral’s next step
Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin had a case of deja vu on Tuesday.
Kiffin, who was at his first SEC Media Days since 2009, was reminded of his bringing his All-SEC ballot in his previous appearance to prove he voted for Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who had infamously been left off the ballot entirely by one of the conference’s coaches.
Kiffin was then asked who his first team All-SEC quarterback this year would be, and he didn’t hesitate to say his quarterback, junior Matt Corral.
While Corral impressed last year — he threw for the fifth-most yards per game (333.7) last season along with 29 touchdowns and 14 interceptions — Kiffin noted his quarterback still has room for improvement.
“He’s done a great job from a leadership standpoint. He’s a very confident kid, so we’ve got to get him to play more consistent because, like we said, he played great at times and then he played really poorly at times,” Kiffin said. “We expect Matt to play better, be more consistent, limit turnovers and take care of the ball better.”
When asked about those improvements, Corral pointed to eliminating turnovers, which he felt was possible through film study and better understanding what defensive looks are coming.