OK troopers, let's review. I've spent the past 72 or so hours in a virus/cold medicine-induced coma during which I may or may not have witnessed: a) Herschel Walker sparring with a unicorn*, b) Mark Sanchez conversing in a cafe with Vladimir Nabakov about Schopenhauer, c) Margaret Thatcher and Lester Bangs dueting on Aqualung** and d) Bill O'Reilly interviewing President Obama (nevermind, I know that last one was a fever dream).
I came out of it only long enough to witness Georgia losing to Xavier in an ugly, ugly basketball game and to find out that Washaun Ealey, the Bulldogs' leading rusher of 2010, has been indefinitely suspended from footballish activities.
I'm not going to write about the Xavier game. I've already been brought low by illness once this week. A postmortem of that contest would likely be the last premortem activity for me. Instead, I'm going to reveal to all of you exactly how excited I am about Ealey's suspension.
It's not because I really want to see Isaiah Crowell start for the Bulldogs against Boise State in the Georgia Dome. In fact, I'd rather Crowell be worked into the rotation, learning how to pass block and getting used to the speed of the college game. I've heard some speculation that this is Richt's way of clearing the landing strip for iCrowell (TM) to take the starting spot, because it was "promised" to him during recruiting. In the words of Jules Winnfield: allow me to retort.
Mark Richt is in the business of keeping his job. And while stellar recruiting classes help with that, I can assure you that if it meant beating Florida and playing in the Georgia Dome in December, Mark Richt would start your Grandma at center and your Aunt Fanny at guard. He doesn't need to run Washaun Ealey off. He needs him to stay to keep the competition going at tailback. Mark Richt doesn't want to enter the most important season of his career at Georgia with a true freshman and a redshirt freshman as his two best options at tailback. It's not like we can sign another tailback in free agency to fill that roster spot [Auburn joke of your choice goes here]. Mark Richt might prefer no Washaun to problem child Washaun, but he prefers contributing Washaun above all others. Ditto for Caleb King.
It's not because I think Ealey "had it coming" or needs to be driven off. I don't think Washaun Ealey is some sort of bad seed that needs to be stamped out, and I've been a little surprised at the emergence of that sentiment in some corners of Bulldog Nation. What Washaun Ealey did against Georgia Tech as a true freshman in 2009 was real. The momentary spark he delivered in the second half of the LSU game that same season was equally real. Ealey is indeed a talented tailback. He hasn't forgotten how to play tailback. But perhaps he has not yet learned what's required to succeed at tailback in the SEC for a team that could actually win the SEC. Hint: it has less to do with what Coach Van said your 40 yard dash time is than it does with what time your alarm clock goes off in the morning and whether you hit the snooze when it does (H/T, Ben Dukes).
Rather, I am excited because Mark Richt just managed to deliver two very important, complementary messages in one blow. For one, he signalled that there are no AIG's on his team. No player is "too big to fail." Ealey was as hyped as any recruit can hope to be. A record breaker, a game changer. But the rumors have been out there at least since last summer. The signs were on Ealey's Facebook page. You heard about it around campus. I'm not saying Washaun Ealey has an attitude problem. But I am saying that a lot of people say Washaun Ealey has an attitude problem. In the words of the immortal Tim Wilson, "If you've been married 9 times, hell, maybe it's you." Sometimes we all need to take a long look in the mirror, and now seems like a good time for Washaun Ealey to get to gazin'. There are no longer any sacred cows on this team. For those of us who remember the politics of the late Donnan era, that's a big step. Things will be done "the Georgia way" by everyone, every day. I don't know how long that sense of urgency will last. I don't know that it's a panacea. But it's a step in the right direction.
Second, Mark Richt's managed to deliver the message that he's not giving up on anybody. Washaun Ealey said yesterday that he still wants to be a part of the University of Georgia football team, and I'm willing to bet that Mark Richt wants him to be on that team. Now Ealey just needs to decide if he's willing to do the things he needs to do to be a part of the University of Georgia football team. That means more than maintaining a 2.0 GPA and not driving on a suspended license after you promised your coach that you wouldn't. Those are the bare minimum. People and football teams who give the bare minimum generally get the bare minimum in return. If Washaun Ealey decides that he wants to give himself completely to the team, I imagine we'll see a lot of him next season. If he doesn't, then so be it. He can transfer, perhaps closer to home. There's been a rumor going around for a while that Ealey might like to go play at Georgia Southern.
I doubt Washaun reads this blog. But Washaun, if you do, I have some news for you. I've talked to Jeff Monken about his football team. I've seen his brows furrow and his eyes blaze. I've seen him tell a room full of reporters and bloggers that quite frankly he's just not sure the team he just took over is working hard enough. That he's teaching them what it means to be a champion. Jeff Monken is a demanding and critical son of a gun. By the way, Jeff Monken said these things last summer before leading the Eagles deep into the 1-AA playoffs, deeper than they'd been in a while. That's why right now, in Bulloch County and surrounding environs, Monken is one of their favorite sons of a gun. If you're looking to go somewhere where the coach will just let Washaun be Washaun, you won't find that place in Statesboro. Apparently, you'll no longer find it in Athens either. And for my part, I'd rather work my miserable butt off in Athens than Staesboro if I had to choose. You'll run till you puke in both places, but in Athens the trashcans are nicer and they have more of them.
It's rare that I agree with Jeff Schultz, but he's correct when he says that Washaun Ealey finds himself at a crossroads because of Washaun Ealey, not Mark Richt or Isaiah Crowell. Is Mark Richt using Washaun Ealey as an example to other players? Certainly. Are those players all over their Twitter accounts, expressing support for their teammate and anguish at the fact that, "UGA is trippin'"? Yes, thankfully. Mark Richt is staging an intervention for his football team. He's been enabling them a bit, and frankly the enablers are the ones who get lashed out at in this situation.
It's never too late for a little tough love. Let's hope Washaun Ealey, and his teammates, get the message.Someone I respect once told me that as a parent "if your teenager doesn't despise you sometimes, you're not doing it right. If your teenager never wants to hug you, you're not doing it right in a different way." Mark Richt is re-establishing the balance in Athens. Along the way, there's going to be discension in the ranks, and some guys will leave rather than fall in line, and as a fanbase we may begin to wonder if Mark Richt has overplayed his hand. We see this all the time when a new coach is brought in (remember the parade of guys led by Quincy Carter who departed in 2001?). It's rare to see a sitting coach shock his team back into line. But if we want a new football team wihtout a new head coach, this is what's required. From where I sit it's about time. Until later . . .
* I think it's bad juju to beat up a unicorn, but I'm pretty sure that if you're Herschel it's permitted. It's not unicornicide if it's with Herschel.
**This was made worse by my inexplicable aversion to the entire Jethro Tull catalog and the fact that the former Prime Minister was wearing a bikini and a coonskin hat. The hat did nothing for her.