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The Georgia Bulldogs, the Southeastern Conference, and Having a Sense of Urgency About Chasing National Championships

Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress"

Recently, I did a little grousing about the Bulldogs’ lack of championships during the 2011-’12 academic year, and, while NCT’s point that not every Georgia head coach deserves to be fired for failing to finish No. 1 is well-taken, I’d like us to take a moment to cast a glance at the Red and Black’s present standing in comparison to the Athenians’ conference mates.

Be forewarned; this is not for the faint of heart:

Arkansas, Florida, and South Carolina all remain in contention to win a national championship in baseball. Louisiana State won a national championship in women’s outdoor track and field. Kentucky won a national championship in men’s basketball. Florida won national championships in men’s indoor track and field, men’s outdoor track and field, and women’s tennis. Alabama won national championships in women’s golf, women’s gymnastics, women’s softball, and football.

The Crimson Tide’s four national crowns in a single scholastic year tied a Southeastern Conference record most recently shared by Georgia in 1999. In other words, we know we can do it, because we’ve done it before, so why are we languishing with Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt among the SEC schools with no shot at claiming even a single national crown this year?

For one thing, we’re getting mixed signals out of Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. Greg McGarity was brought in to implement a culture change---though his status as a disciple of Dan Magill and Vince Dooley established his Bulldog bona fides, it was his status as a disciple of Jeremy Foley that won him the job---but the pace of progress has been slowed by maddening inconsistency.

The decisiveness displayed in ridding the Classic City of short-tenured coaches in women’s sports is nowhere in evidence regarding longer-serving underperformers in higher-profile programs, and the boldness shown in moves to streamline procedures and shore up relationships has not been replicated in such areas as Mark Richt’s and Todd Grantham’s contract extensions, or in the needed upgrades to Foley Field, which were just two recent agenda items on which action came as slowly as Christmas.

That mistaken sense that we have world enough, and time, has encouraged what already was an enervating absence of a sense of swiftness perniciously pervading the Classic City. If it’s a sport whose head coach the average denizen of Bulldog Nation can name without Googling, it’s a sport in which delays are deemed tolerable, and, consequently, it’s a sport in which we take our time.

That’s why it took so long for Mark Richt to make overdue staff changes at defensive coordinator, at on-campus recruiting director, and on the special teams and strength and conditioning staffs. That’s why it took so long for Mark Fox to make an overdue move to bring in an assistant who could assist with recruiting the talent-rich Atlanta market. That’s why Andy Landers, Wayne Norton, and David Perno have shown little initiative to make meaningful changes to programs that appear to have been stuck in neutral, at best, for several seasons.

When changes have occurred, they almost invariably have been for the better, but there has been little of the dissatisfied perfectionism that McGarity properly preaches:

The more you study successful companies, successful departments, anyone successful, they always feel a sense of urgency. They always have a burning desire to improve. I don’t care what your goals are. So for us to sit back and say we’re comfortable, that we’re happy where we are, then I think you’re talking to a department, an institution, a company that’s going to be having some issues down the road. So you never are comfortable. You never reach all of your goals. Hopefully you come close, but I don’t think one ever gets comfortable. . . . So that’s our charge, not just for football, but for every sport. So absolutely it’s essential if you want to have a successful organization that everyone has a sense of being on edge and having a sense of urgency to where that it’s important to work every day to make your organization better.

That’s the right message, and it’s coming through loud and clear in women’s golf, women’s gymnastics, and women’s volleyball, but how strongly is that message being communicated in baseball, basketball, and football? Commitment and consistency count in revenue sports, too, and championship programs---not just championship football teams; championship athletic programs, across the board---are well-established in Baton Rouge, Gainesville, and Tuscaloosa, with the one in Columbia coming on strong.

It isn’t just a matter of being good on the gridiron; Nick Saban only coaches one sport. It’s a matter of being dedicated to excellence in every endeavor, without exception. Starting with the College World Series finals in the summer of 2008, the Classic City Canines have failed to meet legitimate expectations almost every season in almost every sport, almost without exception. Four years is a long time to go between celebratory drinks, and half of that dry spell has occurred on McGarity’s watch.

I believe Greg McGarity is the right man for this job, but, because he cannot make our sun stand still, I wish he’d quit burning quite so much daylight and adhere invariably, rather than intermittently, to his old boss’s dictum that whatever must be done eventually must be done immediately. I don’t want him to fire all his employees, but I danged sure want him to fire up all his employees. If McGarity wants to replace complacency with urgency among his coaches, he must make them run rather than wait patiently in the hope that, if we just sport us while we may, every ‘Dawg eventually will have its day.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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