Kirby Smart defends Georgian ‘culture’ after fatal accident and arrests

Marc SchlabachESPN Senior Writer5 minute read

Kirby Smart defends Georgian ‘culture’ after fatal accident and arrests

Although two players have been arrested in the past two weeks for street racing offenses, Kirby Smart insists his program doesn’t have a culture problem.

ATHENS, Georgia — Although two players have been arrested in the past two weeks for street racing offenses, including booking Jalen Carter on Wednesday in connection with a Jan. 15 crash that killed a Georgia soccer player and Recruiting staff member Coach Kirby Smart insists his program doesn’t have a culture problem.

“Absolutely not. I would say we’re a long way from that,” Smart told ESPN on Friday. “When you talk to people outside of our program who are in it, they talk about the great culture that we have – and we do an amazing job. Because I have a lot of outside entities that are in our program and pour into these young men.

“Do we have perfect young men and women and players? Not necessarily. But I promise you this is the intention: for us to grow these guys and improve them. And I feel really good about the culture of our program.”

Smart, in his first interview since offensive lineman Devin Willock and scouting analyst Chandler LeCroy were killed, said he and his staff worked hard to educate their players about the dangers of speed and speed. race.

Carter, the former Bulldogs defensive tackle who is a potential No. 1 pick in April’s NFL Draft, was arrested on Wednesday for misdemeanor reckless driving and racing. He was released on bail after being briefly incarcerated. Linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson, a 2022 Butkus Award finalist, was arrested last week on the same charges.

Officers said they observed Dumas-Johnson’s vehicle drive at high speed before fleeing the scene on Jan. 10, the day after Georgia lost to TCU to win its second consecutive national title.

Then, on Jan. 15, just hours after Georgia celebrated with a parade and ceremony at Sanford Stadium, Athens-Clarke County police alleged that Carter ran a Ford Expedition driven by LeCroy down a street near from campus. Police said the expedition left the road around 2:45 a.m. and hit two utility poles and several trees.

Willock, an offensive lineman from New Jersey, was ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene. He was seated behind LeCroy and was not wearing a seat belt. LeCroy was taken to hospital by ambulance and died of her injuries.

Former Georgia player Warren McClendon and fellow female staff member Tory Bowles were injured but survived.

Police said the expedition was traveling at 104mph when it crashed. A toxicology report listed LeCroy’s blood alcohol concentration as 0.197, about 2.5 times the legal limit in Georgia.

Smart said he was sleeping at home when his wife, Mary Beth, woke him up with the devastating news. He had several missed calls on his cell phone.

“Heartache,” Smart said, when asked what he remembered about that night. “I got a call at around 3am. I immediately went to the emergency room. Probably one of the hardest times I’ve ever had as a coach and manager to see the pain on people’s faces. players who had been in the ER that morning. (Athletic Director) Josh Brooks was there. You know, (I) still remember the ER doctor breaking the news to me, and just one of the most painful experiences of my life.

Smart said many players were still emotionally struggling with the tragedy.

“In our building, we have 130 football players who are hurting and hurting. And we’ve emotionally supported the mental health of those guys,” Smart said. “We had several players who struggled to come back after the parade who really dealt with that. It’s been a difficult and trying time for our family, our internal family, both the staff and the players. And we continue to support both the Willock and the Chandler families.”

Smart’s last interaction with Willock, 20, was at the end of the parade and celebration.

“I remember him walking out with a big smile on his face as he left the stadium,” Smart said. “I just spoke on the podium, and we punched each other (and) punched each other like we used to do from time to time. He just had an infectious smile. One of the most sweet and the best in terms of You know, he picked up my 10-year-old son and took him off the court on championship night.

Smart said he didn’t recall seeing LeCroy, 24, at the celebration.

The expedition LeCroy was leading had been hired by the athletics department for recruiting. When asked if it was LeCroy’s job to bring the players home that night, Smart replied, “Absolutely not. Absolutely not.” He added that no change in policy was necessary in the wake of the accident.

Smart said he was unaware Carter was cited in September for driving 89 mph in a 45 mph zone. The Athens-Clarke County police officer pleaded with Carter to slow down — and tell his teammates to do the same.

“You all gotta slow down, man,” the officer said, continuing, “Your break is that you’re not going to jail. Because that would make all kinds of news, right?”

Smart said his program enlisted officers from the UGA Police Department and Athens-Clarke County Police last summer to educate players about the dangers of street racing. Smart said Bryant Gantt, director of player support operations for the program, suggested it after watching news clips of street racing in Atlanta.

If the Georgia players didn’t heed the warning, Smart hopes they will learn from the Jan. 15 tragedy.

“I mean, there (are) laws in place for these things, to prevent them for a reason,” Smart said. “And we want to educate our players in every way, in every part of our organization. We’re constantly looking for a better way to do anything, including health and safety. I’ve talked about drugs and alcohol , talked about gambling, talked about racing in cars and at high speeds You have to educate your players and you have to make sure they understand the risks and dangers of that and that’s something we tried to do .”

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