When attempting earlier this season to address the problems in the Georgia Bulldogs’ football program, we looked at the team’s strength and conditioning regimen, and the general consensus appeared to be that this was at or near the top of the list of issues in need of correction.
Accordingly, the news that a change was being made at the top of the Bulldogs’ strength and conditioning program was greeted with mixed emotions: Georgia fans were pleased to learn that the organization had decided to go in a different direction, but many were lukewarm at the announcement that this was accomplished by reshuffling the organizational chart rather than by going outside the program. Joe Tereshinski is a damn good ‘Dawg with an unimpeachable Georgia pedigree, and we all hope he will restore the toughness that was a hallmark of the Red and Black in their heyday, but, lately, hiring from without (Warren Belin, Todd Grantham, Greg McGarity) has worked out a good deal better than promoting from within (Mike Bobo, Damon Evans, Willie Martinez).
How critical is conditioning to the Bulldogs’ success? Consider these data:
- Against the South Carolina Gamecocks, Georgia trailed by eight points after three quarters. The ‘Dawgs lost by eleven points.
- Against the Arkansas Razorbacks, Georgia tied the game with just under four minutes to play. The ‘Dawgs gave up a three-play game-winning touchdown drive in the final minute.
- Against the Mississippi St. Bulldogs, Georgia trailed by one point after three quarters. The ‘Dawgs lost by twelve points.
- Against the Colorado Buffaloes, Georgia led by ten points with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter. The ‘Dawgs were outscored 15-3 down the stretch and lost by two points.
- Against the Florida Gators, Georgia tied the game with just over nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The ‘Dawgs were outscored 10-7 down the stretch and lost by three points.
- Against the Auburn Tigers, Georgia trailed by four points after three quarters. The ‘Dawgs lost by 18 points.
The Classic City Canines have been in a position to win the game in the fourth quarter of all six of their losses this season, but they are not closing the deal. Heck, they aren’t even holding the line; they’re surrendering late leads and falling by double digits to teams they trailed by single scores. Even in last weekend’s win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the Red and Black were up 35-21 with 15 minutes to play and were outscored in the fourth quarter . . . and that is in spite of the fact that the Golden Tornado voluntarily conceded a touchdown to the Bulldogs in the closing minutes of the contest. Last Saturday marked the sixth time this season that Georgia has been outscored in the fourth quarter.
Prior to one of the brutal battles between the Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers in the 1980s, John Brantley---the Georgia linebacker, not the Florida quarterback---said the border war was "to see who the men are. It is the kind of game where women and children need to be sitting in the top level because bones are going to be cracking. It's going to be really intense." Clemson coach Danny Ford summed up a familiar Tiger lament: "They're taught they can whip us in the fourth quarter."
The ability to whip the opposition in the fourth quarter is not now a defining characteristic of the Bulldogs, and Georgia’s hard-earned reputation for intensity and toughness has been squandered. Coach Tereshinski is a part of the Red and Black’s proud past, who certainly has the ability to hand down the lessons Vince Dooley and Erk Russell once taught in Athens. The question is whether what David Pollack describes as Coach Tereshinski’s "very, very old school" approach is what best serves the program at this point. Says Pollack:
I don’t think there’s anyone that ever pushed me harder than Coach T. Just old school, hard work, you’re going to do things the hard way. He’s just got that really passionate, fiery, he’s gonna let you know if you’re not doing it his way. It’s different.
At this point, I’m on board for "different," because whatever the ‘Dawgs are doing now ain’t working. Here’s the problem, though: Georgia’s best chance for restoring its elite status in the SEC isn’t "to do things the hard way," it’s to do things the smart way. Nick Saban didn’t restore Bear Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide program by taking his players to Junction, Texas; he restored it by hiring Scott Cochran, who was born the year Coach Bryant won his last national championship.
I don’t mean to sell Coach Tereshinski short; now that he has been given the opportunity to take charge of his alma mater’s strength and conditioning program, he may make sweeping changes to modernize Georgia’s approach. I certainly hope that is the case, and I will be encouraged if the next report we get out of Athens is of a phone call from Coach Tereshinski to Coach Cochran to discuss the younger man’s methods. Until we start to see results on the field, though---not reports from the spring of how the players are "really getting after it"; not even three quarters’ worth of toughness in next fall’s opener against the Boise St. Broncos, but 60 minutes of solid football---I am going to raise four fingers into the air over Sanford Stadium to the tune of "Krypton Fanfare" with high hopes but muted expectations.
Lateral moves are not necessarily bad moves, and splashy hires are not always the best hires, but this program will not cure what ails it with "more of the same." This may be a step in the right direction, but it just as easily could prove to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, and I had been hoping for a more confidence-inspiring hire than this.