I spent a good bit of time in Athens this last week, making three trips there to the Mizzou game, to my Athens walkabout vaca, to the Goat Roast. What that allowed me to do is listen to a lot of talk radio as well as post game radio shows. I am thankful for the Dawg Sports community because y'all are much smarter than "drunk Jeb from Jesup" (h/t Kyle King) that calls into these shows. I also got to listen to Mark Richt answer about a ST coach himself, which I found interesting.
Before we get to into that, there is a point that has to be made, a point I want to hang on every Georgia blog or news source: The NCAA only allows 7 coaches. EDITORS NOTE THE CORRECT NUMBER OF COACHES IS 10. So, if you want a dedicated special teams coach, you have to remove someone to have that guy. The rule makes no sense, as a school should be able choose however many coaches and what types they want, just like I think the USGA rule of only being able to carry 14 golf clubs is stupid. But it is a rule that schools have to follow. It makes picking and choosing the coaching staff very hard and very important.
Now, some people will say "x number of teams have a ST coach". This is misleading. To tie it back into Mark Richt's response about a dedicated ST coach, Coach Richt said he could easily stamp "Special Teams Coordinator" on John Lily's head (not a direct quote, my phrase), but the reality is you have 5 ST squads - punt team, punt return team, kickoff team, kickoff return team, and FG team and you need lots of coaches to help manage them. That's 5 squads, and there is no way one person alone can run all of that. Mark Richt said most of the coaches have some involvement in STs, so even if you have someone with a ST title, you still will have most of the coaches involved in STs. And that's going to be true for all schools. What we can say about that, is however they are managing it and coaching it, it isn't being done that well.
The next bit is what if Coach Richt, just to satisfy the masses, did say "John Lilly is the ST Coordinator (STC)". The entire Bulldog world would blow up with "FIRE JOHN LILLY! WE HAVE THE WORST STC IN THE COUNTRY!". But in reality, Coach Lilly is a pretty darn good TE coach, and the failure on STs is a failure on all the staff. So it's actually a failure on Mark Richt. It's on Mark Richt to analyze what the problem is and how to fix it. This is where having some film study guys that watch practice and film, but are not coaches (do not interact with players) could be huge. It's what Bama does. Help Richt by feeding him info. I wish we would take this step.
Now the question is how did we get to this point where it's so terrible? I would propose at its root it is a recruiting issue. Because we have undersigned in the past years, and because we haven't done the best job at recruit evaluation, we've ended up with guys that simply aren't as good as say, Alabama. We do not have a good long snapper (which is a huge failure), and simply having a good long snapper would have fixed several of these botched punts. DBs are very often punt returners, and we don't have very good ones right now because of recruiting. And we have lost so many receivers, we don't have that pool to pull from either for returns. Another issue over the years is we haven't put starters on STs. Mark Richt did address this last year and it got a little better, but we need to put our best guys on the field all the time. Which we don't seem to do. So, we have a compounded problem of poor coaching/special team management, poor recruiting, injuries, and not always putting our best guys on the field for STs.
On the botched punts, we again have a compounded problem. We have blocked terribly (back to recruiting and putting the best guys on the field and needing more lineman and more elite linemen), the snaps have not been accurate (back to recruiting) and Barber is a touch slow in his punting. So it's not one issue, it's all the issues. Last year, we missed some PATs and that concerned people, but Morgan has come around and when you have a Freshman on the field, sometimes that's what you get, and he has improved in that area. On the return side, I am convinced that Mark Richt believes that the chances of screwing up a punt return are much greater and more harmful than the chances of a big return. I think he's right. Which is why we had the Logan Gray experiment. A clean fair catch is much better than a muffed punt (duh). Richt puts a guy on the field to try and get a good return when our team is losing and the clock is starting to hurt us, which is what we did against Missouri one time and why Swann was used against Vandy on that muff rather than McGowan. He'll try and get a return when we really need it, but mostly prefers a clean fair catch. Unfortunately, we don't have Mitchell or JHC right now to be our top return guys, back to injuries killing us in more and more areas.
We are not going to hire a full time STC, and don't need to; it's just a label as that coach will be doing many other jobs anyhow. I believe the last years of poor recruiting (how do we not have a competent long snapper?) and undersigning are a big part of the problem, along with whatever the coaches are doing in their practice management and coaching for special teams. What is needed is Mark Richt to figure out how to better manage his coaches in regards to their work with special teams. There is a breakdown somewhere - something isn't translating from the staff room to the practice field to the game. What gives me a sad is I used to say that Coach Richt did two things that you have to do - never loose the game you really shouldn't lose, and never let special teams hurt us. If I played UGA I'd run a fake punt or FG all the time. I'd go for the block all the time. We've opened a door that every team we play sees wide open, and teams are going to keep trying to walk through it until we close the thing and lock it. The good news in all of this, is it's fixable. So here's to hoping it will get fixed...