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Remembering Ray Goff

From Bruins Nation's Nestor comes the following question:  

Kyle ... I am actually really interested in reading your take on Goff.  

Wasn't he an alum who took over after Dooley?  I remember watching his Georgia teams on TBS ... and they always seemed to be underachieving.  

Again what I am really interested in hearing (if he was an alum as I think he was) how difficult it was among Georgia fans to deal with the perceived underachievement during his tenure.

That's a fair question and I will offer my opinion, with the caveat that there was much greater division within Bulldog Nation over Ray Goff than there was over Jim Donnan.  

I like Ray Goff.  I think he's a good guy.  I know he was an excellent recruiter and a good Bulldog Club banquet speaker.  He came across as very down to earth and, as Nestor notes, he was a Georgia man, having been the quarterback of the Red and Black's 1976 S.E.C. championship squad before succeeding his old coach, Vince Dooley, at the helm of the program in 1989.  

There is no question, however, that the 'Dawgs underachieved during his tenure.  The 1992 Bulldogs boasted Terrell Davis, Andre Hastings, Garrison Hearst, and Eric Zeier, to name but a few of the team's standout players.  

Georgia went 10-2 in 1992, losing to Tennessee by three points and to Florida by two points.  (Bear in mind that the Gators lost to eventual national champion Alabama by a touchdown in the S.E.C. championship game; that's how close the 'Dawgs were to national title contention that year.)  It's not hard to imagine Mark Richt making it to a B.C.S. bowl with a team of that caliber, but Ray Goff couldn't do it.  

While the program didn't suffer the same sorts of recurring black eyes under Coach Goff as it would under Coach Donnan, there certainly were some problems that served to embarrass the school and the coaching staff routinely seemed to mishandle personnel issues.  Terrell Davis was given far too few carries, Robert Edwards languished in the wrong position for far too long, and Hines Ward was thrown under the bus when he was called upon to start at quarterback against Alabama in 1995.  

The program sank into mediocrity under Coach Goff.  In Ray's first year, the 'Dawgs went 6-6; it was Georgia's first non-winning season since 1977.  In Ray's second year, the Red and Black went 4-7; it was the Bulldogs' first non-bowl season since 1979.  In Ray's last three years on the Georgia sideline, his teams posted a combined ledger of 17-16-1.  His overall record against Southeastern Conference squads was below .500 and he lost to Vanderbilt more times in seven seasons than Vince Dooley did in a quarter-century.  

The fact that Ray Goff was a Georgia alumnus earned him at least an extra year on the job . . . maybe two.  Had it not been for his status as a former Bulldog player, there would have been little controversy over relieving him of his duties, as evidenced by the fact that Jim Donnan was fired with far less wailing and gnashing of teeth despite his having compiled a far better record.  

I recall the long drive home from Jacksonville in 1992 after Ray Goff's best Georgia team lost to Steve Spurrier's worst Florida team; along the way, I came to the realization that the Bulldogs would never beat the Gators until one or the other of the two teams changed head coaches.  I recall listening to the 1993 Georgia-Arkansas game on the radio and realizing that Ray Goff would have to be fired before Georgia could become competitive again.  

Nevertheless, I recall the feeling of watching Ray Goff doing his best job of game-day coaching against Georgia Tech in 1995, bringing his team back to victory after he knew he had been fired.  I remember thinking, "Good ol' Ray . . . I'm going to miss him."  The minute he stopped causing my team to lose football games, I found myself feeling sorry for him as a human being and a fellow Georgia alumnus after two and a half years of being adamant in my conviction that, as a coach, he would have to go.  

Ray Goff was a good man who was promoted beyond his level of competence.  He was the third choice, after Erk Russell and Dick Sheridan, and he performed about as well as third choices usually do.  (If you squint, the names "Ray Goff" and "Ron Zook" look an awful lot alike.)  

The famous banner from the 1995 Georgia-South Carolina game ("If you can't beat the poultry, go back to Moultrie") spoke to the fan base's frustration with the program's decline during his tenure, but, even now, I look back on the Ray Goff era with a wistfulness and a regret that I never felt about the Jim Donnan era.  

In Coach Donnan's case, I supported him as long as I could and, once he was gone, it was good riddance to bad rubbish.  With Coach Goff, though, I couldn't help wishing that it had worked out for him; rather than being mad at him because he couldn't do the job, I felt badly for him because I wished he could've done the job.  

Even now, I regret that Ray Goff's tenure at Georgia ended the way it did, even though I knew earlier than most Bulldog fans that it was the only way it could end.  The answer to Nestor's question is that it was very difficult for Georgia fans to watch one of their own fail at a job at which we demanded success and at which we all hoped he would succeed.  

That, at least, is how it appears from this vantage point.  I welcome your thoughts in the comments below.  

Go 'Dawgs!