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DALLAS -- Kirby Smart vigorously defended Georgia's approach to discipline and education amid his program's issues with speeding and reckless driving Tuesday at SEC media days, saying Georgia's NIL collective is fining players as punishment.

For the second straight year, off-field issues are a major offseason distraction for the Bulldogs.

"We're still talking about it because we've had issues," Smart told ESPN. "The most important thing is the safety, the health and safety of our players and our community. We have to do a better job."

Last week, Georgia starting linebacker Smael Mondon Jr. and backup offensive tackle Bo Hughley were arrested on separate misdemeanor charges of reckless driving, according to booking records from the Athens-Clarke County Sheriff's Office.

The repeated violations have come to light after Georgia football player Devin Willock and recruiting staff member Chandler LeCroy were killed in a car wreck in Athens in January 2023 and Jalen Carter, a former Georgia defensive lineman who is now with the Philadelphia Eagles, was driving with a suspended license during the night of that crash, leading to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing.  

"Please understand this: I'm defending the program, but I'm not defensive," Smart said. "I am going to stand up for my program because we have good kids in our locker room. We gotta do a better job."

Smart said he has tried to take new approaches, as the message has clearly not gotten across.

"I can't tell you the things that we've done that no one in the country has done," Smart said. "Let's start with defensive driving, requiring certain incoming guys to take that course which, as far as I know, nobody in the country has done. Discipline, we suspended a player [Marcus Rosemy] for speeding and driving last year, which is rare. Nobody's ever done that. That hasn't controlled it and prevented it, so why are we still talking about it? Because we've had guys make poor decisions."

The result, he says, is that they've also had to take new approaches to discipline.

"The [NIL] collective has fined players -- substantially," Smart said. "We've dismissed players that have been involved, and I'm talking about like routine traffic, repeated, repeated violations. ... I actually think the best key is the pocket because you look at what the NFL has done, their model is defined. And if you asked any of our players what they would rather have, they want their money. When I say substantial -- very substantial -- in terms of the hits the some guys have taken."

Carson Beck, the Bulldogs' quarterback, said he has spoken to his teammates about the tragic deaths of Willock and LeCroy, and another painful memory from his past to emphasize his concern.

"For me personally, you go back to when I was 16 years old, one of my best friends passed away in a car accident," Beck said. "So that's difficult for me, guys making decisions and doing the wrong thing and maybe thinking they're above the law. You never think it's going to happen to you."

Smart said there are players who come to college who are first-time drivers at 18, and Georgia has even hired the same company that taught Smart's 16-year-old twins to drive to help with driver's education, which he also believes is a first for a program.

"We've gone above and we got approval to pay for them to have a driving service at 18 years old, because they never have driven in their life until they get to college," Smart said. "That's scary."

Defensive lineman Mykel Williams said the leaders in the locker room have taken it upon themselves to hold teammates accountable as well.

"We're the ones that repeatedly get in trouble for the same things, which is a terrible thing that we keep doing, especially after everything we've been through as a team," Williams said. "We really try to control that the best we can. We fine guys, we suspend guys. We suspended two people, kicked one guy off the team. It's taken very seriously. Mistakes continue to happen."

Williams said if they see another player out doing something they shouldn't be doing, they immediately call or text a group thread to get them in line.

Beck, who has a Lamborghini, said it's simplistic to say the infractions are a result of players having more money, and newer, faster cars.

"That's just an excuse," Beck said. "Obviously, now in the day and age with NIL, guys have more money at a young age than they've ever had, and with more money comes more access. And when you have more access to these types of cars, does it lead to some of this? Yeah, but that's not an excuse for the things that have been happening.

"Ultimately, it's your decision to make. You're the one sitting behind the wheel. I mean, that's a selfish decision you're making, especially with all the things that have happened within our program. At some point, it's like, when does this stop?"

Smart said there's no one-size-fits-all approach to discipline. He spoke about how Jonathan Ledbetter, an NFL player who got a DUI at Georgia, was disciplined; later, with the Arizona Cardinals, he was named the team's Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. Smart said Ledbetter was able to learn from his discipline.

"I'm trying to find the best way to reach them, not because it saves the University of Georgia any embarrassment, but because it makes them better people," Smart said. "They're gonna be better people for getting the discipline it takes to learn from those mistakes."

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Screenshot 20220530 225201
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