Four Questions for the Georgia Bulldogs: Ray Goff, Gene Chizik, Will Muschamp, and What to Do When Winning the Opening Coin Toss

The offseason between the 2009 and 2010 college football campaigns was the wackiest ever, but the coming offseason is off to a promising start as one that will give last year’s a run for its money. If you’re like me, your head is spinning just a little bit as you strive to process everything that is happening. I can’t promise to provide you with any answers, but I’ll at least do what I can to help clarify the questions. While far from a comprehensive list, these are they:

Is Ray Goff beginning to develop a coaching tree? Mike Bobo, whom Coach Goff recruited and who spent two years of his varsity career playing quarterback for Vince Dooley’s successor, is now the offensive coordinator for the Bulldogs. Kirby Smart, whom Coach Goff recruited and who spent the first year of his varsity career playing for Coach Goff, is now the defensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide. Will Muschamp, who played defensive back for Coach Goff from 1991 to 1994, is now the head coach of the Gators. Greg Davis and Mac McWhorter, who until recently were mainstays of Mack Brown’s hugely successful Texas program, both served as assistants under Coach Goff in Athens. Is it a coincidence that Coach Goff and Dustin Hoffman’s character from "Rain Man" both went by "Ray"? Maybe Coach Goff was a coaching savant, and we never knew it.

Did Gene Chizik deserve to be designated the national coach of the year? In 1992, Rob Reiner groused that he didn’t receive an Academy Award nomination for best director for "A Few Good Men." His reasoning was that he had to be a finalist for best director to have produced a film so universally recognized for its excellence. After all, "A Few Good Men" received four Oscar nominations (including best picture and best supporting actor for Jack Nicholson) and five Golden Globe nominations (including best film, best screenplay for Aaron Sorkin, best actor for Tom Cruise, and best supporting actor for Jack Nicholson). The film also featured numerous well-known character actors (including Christopher Guest, J.A. Preston, and J.T. Walsh), several rising stars (including Cuba Gooding Jr., Joshua Malina, and Noah Wyle), and a solid supporting cast (including Kevin Bacon, Demi Moore, Kevin Pollak, and Kiefer Sutherland). In my opinion, that’s why Rob Reiner didn’t get nominated for best director; heck, if you gave me an Aaron Sorkin screenplay and that cast, I could turn out the best movie of the year, too.

So it is with Gene Chizik. Coach Chizik, whose hiring impressed exactly no one, has guided the Tigers to an undefeated regular season, an SEC title, and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game. How has he done it? Well, he did it by having Nick Fairley (who won the Lombardi Trophy), Gus Malzahn (who won the Frank Broyles Award), Cam Newton (who won the Walter Camp Award, won the Davey O’Brien Award, won the Maxwell Award, and won the Heisman Trophy), and Cecil Newton (who won the Nobel Prize for Economics). All right, I made up that last one, but the rest is all true.

When you have the best defensive player, best offensive player, best overall player, and best assistant coach, how hard is it to be the head coach? It seems to me that Coach Chizik’s job largely consists of saying what former Kansas City Royals manager Jim Frey said to George Brett when offering him advice on hitting: "Attaway to hit, George."

Should the Bulldogs change their kickoff strategy? No, I’m not talking about Jon Fabris’s infamous directional kicking approach; I’m talking about the decision whether to receive or defer when winning the opening coin toss. Ordinarily, Georgia elects to kick off to open the first quarter, in order to get the ball first in the third quarter. I generally agree with that strategy, but, after Sean Payton popularized the surprise second half onside kick in last year’s Super Bowl, I am starting to question the wisdom of the conventional wisdom.

I can think of two instances in which Coach Payton’s maneuver worked against the Red and Black. The first was in the 2005 Louisiana-Monroe game, and the second was in the 2010 Auburn game. Twice is two times too many, particularly considering how well the trickery worked for the opposing team (even though the Bulldogs supposedly had been warned to be on the lookout for it against the Plainsmen).

In 2011, an Aaron Murray-led Georgia offense likely will begin the season ahead of Todd Grantham’s defense. Next fall, the ‘Dawgs start out against a Boise State outfit boasting a potent offense and a South Carolina club returning every prominent point-scoring weapon you can name. Coach Bobo has been criticized (fairly) for failing to keep his foot on the gas with his play calling. In order to address all of these valid concerns, I believe the Bulldogs should elect to receive the opening kickoff when winning the toss in 2011.

Is Will Muschamp a good fit for Florida? Earlier this autumn, I received a reader e-mail that made an excellent point regarding the Gators’ success. Wrote that commenter:

FL is completely aligned in thought and action. Bernie Machen, Jeremy Foley, Urban Meyer, Huntley Johnson, the Gville police, and of course the fanbase - all read the same sheet of music. All are singularly committed to winning. GA has an unpopular President, a disjointed foundation(s) (due to Adams), a bitter APD that admittedly targets athletes b/c they believe they are spoiled brats, and a fanbase that while being supportive of McGarity, is becoming distinctly divided on Mark Richt.

That struck me as a good point then, and the recent hiring of Coach Muschamp in Gainesville caused me to think back to it. Whatever one may think of the relative merits of Dan Mullen, Will Muschamp, and Charlie Strong, it is abundantly clear which of them is the odd man out when it comes to the Florida athletics program. Coaches Mullen and Strong worked for Urban Meyer, who, despite not having any previous connections to the Sunshine State Saurians, did have a prior relationship with Dr. Machen at the University of Utah.

Does Coach Muschamp, who has numerous ties to the Southeastern Conference but no previous connection with the Gators (despite having lived in Gainesville for a few years a long time ago), fit the mold, or will he have a new way of doing things that differs dramatically from the unified approach that has been evident with the Orange and Blue for the last two decades? If the latter, what is the likelihood that the accompanying paradigm shift makes the combination of a good coach with a successful program a bad match? Sometimes, those two rights add up to a wrong, and, if he does not fit, when must he quit?

Here, evidently, is what Coach Meyer thinks of Coach Muschamp’s ability to get with the program:

He’s a tremendous recruiter. I have bumped into him many times over the years on the road while on recruiting trips.

That seems like less than a ringing endorsement. I know of no one who thinks Will Muschamp was a bad hire, and I have gone on record repeatedly in support of the proposition that Will Muschamp is a great choice to be a head coach, but being a good coach and being a good fit aren’t always the same thing, and the high level of success at which Coach Meyer operated raises the very real question whether any change in the program is a change for the worse.

As coaches go, Urban Meyer was the Beatles. The best-case scenario for replacing him is the Rolling Stones . . . not quite as good, but still quite good enough. The farther you get from the Beatles formula, though, the less likely it is that you’ll get the Stones and the more likely it is that you’ll get Hootie and the Blowfish. How likely is it that what Sam Rayburn, as speaker of the House, said of Dwight Eisenhower as president of the United States ("Good man, wrong job") is true of Will Muschamp as head coach of the Florida Gators?

Those are some of the questions I have; if you have answers, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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