Well Dawg fans, we didn't quite make it a full year without a player arrest, falling just a few weeks short. The latest one, involving linebacker Cornelius Washington, arrested for excessive speeding and DWI, isn't one we can so easily blow off like a scooter violation. Frustration mounts amongst Coach Richt die-hards, those sitting the fence, and the ones ready for his removal. I currently have a lunch bet with an office coworker that Coach Richt will not be fired this year. Somehow, some way, word is out once again, that UGA is out of control, we have a lack of discipline and Coach Richt isn't on the hot seat, he is on the way out the door seat. In other words, it's a done deal he is gone. Let's delve into this a little bit after the jump.
I am not sure what exactly perpetuates these rumors because it's certainly surprising news to me. My fellow coworker made one valid point after I pointed out to him his Aggies had the same record as UGA after losing to two ranked opponents (just as we did mind you), he said, "The standards for winning are just so high at UGA." I thought that was a reasonable stance for once; one that didn't involve just blatant hate or ignorance. You may wonder where I am getting this from, and let me tell you, the perception out around the nation is much different (and often much more ignorant) of Coach Richt's "hot seat" and the idea of lack of discipline. An interesting part in Coach Richt's perceived failure is in the fact that the standard for winning was actually created by Mark Richt. He has become a victim of his own success. One losing year and we are ready to fire the coach that put everyone on the winning bandwagon in the first place. Let's please not kid ourselves here, the number of UGA fans skyrocketed in the early part of the last decade, and younger generations became accustomed to 10 win years. Perhaps everyone did. No coach at UGA has ever done better over this number of games, few coaches ever have done better over this number of games, and T Kyle King recently brought out an amazing stat: Coach Richt's record is very, very similar to TCU’s Gary Patterson. Except one was accomplished in the WAC/MAC where players tend to play 4 years + a red shirt (geez, he is playing 22-23 year olds this year) and the other was accomplished in the SEC where stars tend to start as freshman and leave as juniors. We all know which conference is the tougher one. Bottom line: what Mark Richt has done in the SEC is a phenomenal achievement. If there is any reasonable criticism to be had of Coach Richt, it is that he is slow to make changes. He was too slow to remove Coach Martinez, however as he often does, when he makes a change, he makes them in a very good way. The hire of Coach Grantham was a absolute fine one, and true to Atlanta Journal Constitution form, they had daily "Will UGA ever hire a new Defensive Coordinator" posts as Richt's search took so long, and they have yet to follow it up with a daily "What a great hire Coach Grantham is!" post. Coach Grantham is so good he is likely to be a head coach himself one day if he is so inclined. (Mr. McGarity, increase his salary massively with a 5 year contract please!).
Another reasonable complaint would be in the strength and conditioning area. It shouldn't have taken three years to realize this was a problem and I feel a little too much chair shuffling has gone on in this area. I personally am very, very disgruntled by the quotes about how and why our S&C program fell the way it did, things like Coach Tereshinski saying they had to bus off campus to work out during Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall renovations. This is completely unacceptable and a major excuse. I surely hope that area doesn't just improve, but sky rockets, by 2012. Again, slow to change, but things are in a much better direction, and the right ones, which is becoming typical of Coach Richt's style. Our S&C is improving. Although frustrating, particularly with the slow move towards getting what I believe was a critical hire of a 3-4 defensive schematic NFL coach, Coach Richt once again got it right. In hindsight, when our emotions subside, getting it right is much more important than a knee jerk emotionally charged decision and doing something we regret.
Many of you would also say, and I most certainly say, that keeping Coach Bobo as our Offensive Coordinator is a failure. This is a tough one. Most assuredly Coach Richt goes over the film with Coach Bobo and has a lot of influence in this area. In fact, I imagine Coach Richt has taught Coach Bobo much of what he knows for offensive strategy. There just seems to be some piece missing that I, that we, simply don't quite get. The only thing we know is there has been a lack of O production in the second half, and there are some glaring irregularities in play calling for a team that is supposed to work a play action offense. Is it Richt's loyalty to his friends that is keeping Coach Bobo around? Is it that he sees a well called, but poorly executed game? Has he simply lost his touch with offensive strategy? I'm not sure, but we will certainly know in 2012. There comes a point with this much talent where they either aren't being coached up or the play calling is bad. Coach Richt's off season adjustments will once again be a important piece of the program for next year. My personal issue from a leadership standpoint is this: we have a lot of talent, it is up to Coach Bobo with oversight from Coach Richt to put the right people in the right positions with the right calls to succeed. We fail at this a little more than I like. It's never going to be perfect, but I think we can do better. It may be a good play call as far as good calls go, however, if the wrong body is in the wrong position, or if the call is something said bodies don't have the ability to execute, it doesn't matter. The final factor on the Coach Bobo discussion is twofold, one is admitted, going conservative in the second half with a lead. I believe this sends a bad message to winning, and it also doesn't allow us to build a buffer to get someone like a winged Isaiah Crowell out of the game. If the starters are in, we need to play to win, score and score some more. The second part of this twofold problem is a failure of adjustment after the half. Deferring the kickoff and coming out of the tunnel seems to produce little benefit; our opponents adjust, we don't adjust to their adjustments on Offense. No matter how you cut it, 3 pts a piece in the second half of two SEC games is flat out unacceptable and a failure.
However, let's remember this is a rebuilding year. Last year was a failure in every department. This year is the recovery. Rare is it a team goes from zero to hero in one year. We can't hang our expectations too unreasonably high this season. How we play this year, especially mentally, is so critical. How our discipline is demonstrated is hugely important. So let's talk about discipline. I don't know why Cornelius Washington ended up in Jackson County at 4am of all places, but I will say he had the game of his life and he was probably just high on life and having a good time. He chose very poorly in how to have that good time. Based on the quotes from Richt I take his sincerity at failing the team, and himself, at face value. What he said about his mistake is 180 degrees opposite of someone like LSU's Jordan Jefferson who "had no regrets" for his bar fight. However, this gives us a chance to analyze, again, this wider, national perception that Coach Richt's team is "out of control" or has "no discipline". To give you tankertoad's "point blank blunt" opinion, it drives me nuts that teams like USC, OSU and UT have incredibly outlandish behavior occur and it's barely mentioned (South Carolina recently got their letter from the NCAA, not hearing much about that either), or at least the news of unethical behavior is reported in such a different light than us, yet when something, anything, happens with UGA it's national news and the message boards of hate blow up. The talking heads on ESPN bemoan UGA while saying the kids at USC and OSU are paying a price that wasn't their fault. Is the fact that Coach Richt is such a good man, an admitted church going, missionary supporting Christian, driving the desire to hold him to a higher standard well beyond other coaches? I can tell you this, the playing field for "discipline" is not measured equally amongst the media or the more bandwagon"ish" fans when comparing UGA to other schools and the desire to start hating. Last year there were many that would proclaim "UGA had all those arrests!" You know what you can do when you hear that? Ask the person whom exclaims "Fulmer cup" or "Thugs" or "All those arrests", "Do you know what they were for?" 90% of the time people (non UGA or AJC reader types) won't even know. And then when you explain, "Said player was delinquent on a ticket, he has since paid his ticket and fines and/or was also suspended appropriately," the individual making the lack of discipline proclamations will promptly dismiss it all as just another UGA thug. Folks don't want the story, they just want the headline. They want to accuse UGA of lack of discipline, but don't want to bother with how punishment was handled. They want the drama, they don't want result.
However, we can look at this latest DWI arrest while still fresh in our mind to see exactly just how well Coach Richt does handle player discipline. On a Sunday morning at approximately 7:30am, Washington was released from jail, and by approximately 2:30pm the same day, Coach Richt had already met with the player, issued a statement, and suspended him for two games, and the suspension was in accordance with team policy. Folks, you can't do any better than that. It was timely, it was fair, it followed the rules, and it was compassionate. I don't like to do it, but when these things happen I drive by the AJC message boards, and, not to my surprise, the fire Richt and kick Washington, not just kick him off the team, but out of school, were the usual rants. The usual gang of AJC writers were quick to go into all the details of how bad Cornelius was in his actions and how much this would hurt our team in linebacker depth, without any mention of just how quick Mark Richt acted, little mention that our team already has rules in place just for this type of thing, and that Coach Richt has, at every turn, kicked players off the team for arrests with additional circumstances beyond alcohol. We really never hear about those guys removed from the team, because Coach Richt is a true gentleman and doesn't destroy a kid in the media. Isn't it a good thing we have rules in place to ensure things are handled fairly? Do we want a random emotional snap judgment to occur for punishment, or would we rather have our Coaches and Athletic Director look at the entire story, follow the team rules, and make further judgment as necessary? Also, we as fans must see things in a bigger picture. In other words, the lack of discipline is headlined, but the fact that it is not tolerated, and punishment is swift and fair, is often buried or overlooked. The AJC doesn't headline "Coach Richt is strong on player punishment!" We never get that story. We get the incident, we don't get the follow up, at least not with same impassioned emotion. When Ray Drew hurt himself on a scooter, it was headlined "Another UGA scooter incident". The fact our officials have met with local law enforcement to work out problems with legal riding and other misdemeanor problems was barely mentioned. The fact Ray Drew was legally operating a vehicle and coming home from church was barely mentioned. Just one big headline "SCOOTER PLAYER UGA". Once again, the message boards lit up that players shouldn't even be allowed to ride a scooter; apparently a large mindset of fans believe collegiate athletes should be more constrained than even young military personnel. In our world of reality TV college football, we are all about the problem; however we seem to fall short on looking at what solutions take place, and the fact these athletes are actually free people that do have to comply with the law and team policy, but otherwise aren't bound and chained and have their own lives and interests. We follow them as fans, but we don't own them as our athletes.
Another piece of this discipline issue that really disturbs me is how other fan bases and the media will play both sides of this to suit their inconsistent arguments. When players are removed from the team for discipline problems or they leave of their own accord because they can't do it the "Georgia Way" what you hear is our players "are leaving in droves" or "addition by subtraction" or "UGA recruits thugs". Wait just a minute now! You want to hang Coach Richt out to dry for not maintaining discipline, but then conveniently flip it to hang him out to dry for removing players from the team for lack of discipline? Which the expletive is it? You can't have this both ways. What the anti Coach Richt or anti UGA crowd is really telling me is they just want any excuse to latch onto to so as to poke fun at UGA or support their fire Coach Richt mantra. What I'm hearing is they are not interested in the truth beyond the headlines; you don't want to get the facts and data, you just want to hate, perpetuate incomplete truths, and don't genuinely care about the truth of the matter.
I am quite proud of how Coach Richt has handled himself this year and throughout the 2010 year of multiple arrests. No one could have done it better. No player got a pass; several players were removed from the team, and we didn't just suspend a player for a game that didn't matter to be reinstated for a big game, or just for part of a game (yea, you Florida). Our bar of discipline is well above what has happened at any of the other schools with discipline issues. We don't oversign. When our players want to be starters, they prove it on the practice field or get shown the door if they think they don't get enough snaps. I am hoping we finish out this year strong, make more solid changes in the off season, and get back to reloading versus rebuilding. All the pieces are there. I hope additional strength and conditioning changes are made; I hope the relationship between the university and local law enforcement continues to grow, and I most definitely hope Mark Richt takes a serious look at our offensive play calling and Coach Bobo's handling of it. Our defense is coming together very solidly and I don't anticipate losing to all of our rivals, in fact we should at least break even or better, which should retain his job status, and this hot seat talk can finally die down. Coach Mark Richt is a fine example of what we want to be as UGA students, graduates, employers and fans: Win the right way.
So tell me, what are your thoughts on the discipline issues, the media attention, the story behind the story? Do your friends or coworkers give you a hard time about the Fulmer Cup award, only to wave you away when you try and ‘splain things to them? Are you tired of the immediate "fire x" or "kick x off the team" reaction within hours of a problem before we have hardly any data, or do you think it's justified? Hey, even if you are a fire "X" person, you can bring that as well, but do it tastefully please and let's frame it around discipline and/or your factual reasoning why you wouldn't want Coach Richt removed. I look forward to your thoughts!