ATHENS, Ga. – Coach Kirby Smart acknowledged Tuesday that he is still struggling to find a way to persuade his Georgia players to slow down when driving, even after a player and employee were killed in a January crash.
Smart has led Georgia to back-to-back national championships for the first time in school history, but the offseason has been marred by off-the-field problems, including a string of reckless driving and speeding offenses.
Only hours after the Bulldogs celebrated their latest title with a parade and ceremony at Sanford Stadium, a Jan. 15 crash dramatically changed the tone of the offseason. An offensive lineman, Devin Willock, and a recruiting staffer, 24-year-old Chandler LeCroy, were killed in a crash after LeCroy and defensive tackle Jalen Carter were racing hours after the celebration.
Carter was given 12 months’ probation and fined $1,000 after pleading no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing. Carter was the No. 9 overall pick by Philadelphia in the NFL draft a month later.
“I wish we could prevent the speeding issues and learn from the horrific tragic event,” Smart said Tuesday. “I’m still wrestling with that. We talk about as a staff all the things we can do.”
Last week, wide receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint had a reckless driving charge dismissed when he pleaded guilty to speeding. He was charged with driving 90 mph in a 45-mph zone in Athens in May and received six months of probation and a fine of more than $1,000.
Also last week, freshman outside linebacker Samuel M'Pemba, who enrolled in January, was charged by the Oconee County Sherriff's Office for driving 88 mph in a 55-mph zone.
Smart said he always worries about his players, especially in the offseason, but added “I would say it’s been harder this year. … It’s been a really tough offseason, if you want to know the truth, because of the way it kicked off and the way it started. That’s been extremely tough, I know, for our staff and our players.”
Smart, athletic director Josh Brooks and others spoke Tuesday at a media briefing and rebutted a report that the athletic department provides automatic support to players charged with sexual misconduct, including a freshman accused of a sex crime during a recruiting trip who was not charged and later signed with Georgia.
When asked if he was motivated to talk with reporters so he could protect recruiting interests, Smart said “This had nothing to do with recruiting for us. It had to do with allegations we think are sensationalized or inaccurate when you talk about rallying around people who are accused with sexual misconduct. You’re not going to sit back and stand and take it.”
While he suggested there could be changes in the way he deals with driving issues with his players, he said no change in messaging is needed on sexual abuse.
“If we’re referring to sexual misconduct it’s point-blank, you’re gone, you’re out of here,” Smart said.