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Kirby Smart speaks about 'mistakes' by players, how team is dealing with crash aftermath

Asked if he felt he had control of the program, Smart responded "absolutely."

ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia coach Kirby Smart on Tuesday offered some of his most extensive public comments since a January crash that resulted in the death of a player and staffer.

Smart spoke about how the team tries to educate players about the dangers of risky behavior, about its disciplinary philosophy and in what he called the "mistakes" recently former and current players have made this offseason - both run-ins with law enforcement and the tragic crash after the team's championship parade that resulted in the death of player Devin Willock and team staffer Chandler LeCroy.

"We treat them like we do our kids - we discipline them, we try to prevent them, we try to educate them, we try to do all we can to help our student athletes in a positive way," he said.

RELATED: Former UGA linebacker Nolan Smith remembers late teammate killed in crash

Smart also spoke to how players are processing the tragedy.

"Our players have been through a lot. You know when you talk about the help and the mental health that some of our guys have needed since the accident, it's been a really tough go of it for them," he said. "I feel like our players are starting to be able to acknowledge and they understand that when you make mistakes, decisions that are costly, they can cost you your life, and that's not to be taken lightly."

Asked if he felt he had control of the program, Smart responded "absolutely."

"We've got complete control of our program and our kids in our program," Smart said. "Do kids make mistakes? Yes, young student athletes make mistakes, they do, it happens all across the country, it happens here. There's no lack of control for our program."

Credit: WXIA

In the Jan. 15 crash, LeCroy was driving in what the Athens-Clarke County Police Department has described as a race with defensive tackle Jalen Carter driving another car. They've said she was going 104 miles per hour at the time of the crash and had a blood alcohol concentration more than twice the legal limit.

Questioned whether team policies were sufficient in light of the crash, Smart countered that policies were already in place that LeCroy had broken the night of the incident.

"It's no policy or lack thereof policy that caused this accident," he said.

About six weeks after the crash, Carter was charged with two misdemeanors of reckless driving and racing in connection to the incident. He has said he intends to return to Athens to answer the charges and that "when all of the facts are known I will be fully exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing."

Additional episodes have swirled around the program this offseason - with linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson facing two misdemeanor charges, also for reckless driving and racing, in a separate incident; former quarterback Stetson Bennett getting arrested for public intoxication in Texas; and a matter with transfer receiver RaRa Thomas that ultimately was dismissed by the Athens district attorney.

Smart said it was not reflective of the program's broader discipline or culture.

"I think our kids across the board will tell you that we have an incredible culture here, we have a connective tissue that brings our team together," he said. "Our guys do make mistakes, that's historically probably gonna happen when you're 18-22 years old. Our job is to prevent that from happening and that starts with me, and you do it by how you educate your players and how you discipline your players and we'll continue to do that at a high standard."

He did not go into specific disciplinary measures the team might take in any given incident -  Bennett and Carter are headed for the NFL and no longer with the program, while Dumas-Johnson at some point will be disciplined, Smart said.

"Do I have to define what that discipline is right now? No, I don't have to define what that discipline is, but I can assure you that the education piece is there and the discipline's there," he said. 

The coach pointed to education programming the team does in the fall and spring, in particular, to address risky behavior. Smart said last summer that programming had focused in on reckless driving and street or drag racing, noting at the time it was an acute problem in Atlanta.

"These are young men who are gonna make mistakes. I'm a big believer in education, helping them to become better. It's not just - does the discipline fit the behavior? Can you change the behavior? Because that's really what we're charged with, right? Growing young men into adults, making sure they graduate, making sure they become better people," Smart said. "And we've gotta find better ways within our organization to continue to do that to help them. That's what we wanna do, wanna help these young men become better people."

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