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Todd Grantham, Chas Henry, and the Controversy at the End of the Georgia-Florida Game

All right, I still just wanted to lie around, feel sick, and mope for a few more days, but, like Al Pacino in "The Godfather, Part III," I’ve been pulled back in by circumstances. I am speaking, of course, of Todd Grantham’s "choke" gesture, which some quarters of the blogosphere deem to be the thing that will knock me off of my supposed "high horse."

In overtime, while looking onto the field at Chas Henry, Todd Grantham made a choking gesture. A Gainesville Sun reporter who reviewed the film of the incident states that Coach Grantham said, "You’re gonna [bleepin’] choke. You’re gonna choke." Henry confirmed afterward that such a statement had come from a Georgia coach. Coach Grantham was not, as some suggested, giving a signal to his players.

While I appreciate Year2’s measured take from the preceding link, and while I recognize the reasonableness of Senator Blutarsky’s point that such things happen in the heat of the moment (a reality of which we cannot be overly critical, since we wanted a fiery defensive coordinator), I have to agree with Jeff Schultz, his over-the-top Woody Hayes comparison notwithstanding:

Now, it would be understandable if Grantham thought, "Choke!" or "Miss it!" in his head. It wouldn’t even be surprising a Georgia player yelled, "Choke!" or grabbed his neck.

But for a 44-year-old college coach to be grabbing his neck when a 21-year-old is lining up for a field goal? That would be a bit much.

It was a bit much, particularly since it was directed at the field and accompanied by words directed at the player: Coach Grantham said, "You’re gonna choke"; he didn’t say, "He’s gonna choke." He was speaking to Chas Henry, and Chas Henry heard him. That’s unsportsmanlike and inappropriate.

Yes, I know Todd Grantham is a fiery guy, and I like that about him, but self-control is the essence of discipline, and personal foul penalties (particularly in Jacksonville) have been a problem for the Georgia Bulldogs for a while now. Part of Coach Grantham’s job is to teach his charges managed aggression; in order to do that job effectively, he has to be able to control himself at least as well as he expects his players to control themselves. Erk Russell was as fiery a coach as we have ever had, and he used language with his players that would have caused blushes below deck on a troop ship, but I am not aware of any instance in which he directed profanity and demeaning gestures to an opposing player. The line may be a fine one, but there is a line, and Coach Grantham crossed it.

Seth Emerson makes the interesting point that this may be a carryover from Coach Grantham’s lengthy stint in the NFL. That would make sense, as this sort of thing would be a bit more understandable (albeit equally ill-mannered) between grown men and professionals. However, as Seth also notes, Pete Carroll’s use of a "choke" gesture at the next level was deemed "a breach of etiquette." Coach Carroll subsequently apologized to the kicker in question, and Coach Grantham should, as well. (By the way, in both instances, the kicker in question booted the game-winning field goal, so this isn’t just bad form, it’s bad mojo.)

Some commenters have noted, and it bears emphasizing, that, in the context of sports, "choke" has a specific and non-violent meaning; it is a "man enough" jab meant to imply that the player will not come through in the clutch. That fact is important to note, because a coach directing a "choke" gesture is being rude, but not doing anything threatening. It’s not like he sent Henry a text message saying, "Time to die."

Moreover, the ill-advised words and gestures made by Todd Grantham in the heat of battle were more than offset by Urban Meyer’s postgame directing of the Gator chomp to the Georgia fans. However bad an idea it is for a coach to smart off to an opposing player during the game, that at least has the virtue of occurring in the arena between enemy combatants; what Coach Meyer did cannot be defended by either excuse, as it took place after the game and was directed at the fans. Since a fish rots from the head down, we should not wonder why so many Florida fans seem to take greater pleasure in kicking Georgia fans while we’re down than in celebrating their victory with one another.

Nevertheless, it is no justification for us to assert that our coaches are less badly behaved than theirs; certainly, we hold representatives of the University of Georgia to a higher standard than merely being able to assert, "At least they act better than Gators!" The bottom line is that, if a player would be flagged for doing it on the field of play during the game, a coach shouldn’t do it on the sideline, either, and we all know that, if a Georgia player had done what Coach Grantham did or a Florida player had done what Coach Meyer did, a fifteen-yard penalty would have followed.

Like podunkdawg, I am not ashamed, but I am embarrassed. It was unsportsmanlike, and he should have known better. Todd Grantham does not owe me an apology, but he owes one to Chas Henry.

Go ‘Dawgs!