This morning I joined writers from print, television and web media outlets all over the state in Macon for the annual Peach State Pigskin Preview. It's a unique event that brings together coaches and players from every college football program in the state for a day of football talk followed by a barbecue lunch. Obviously, it's my kind of party. So I annually head down to the Macon museum district (yes, that's a thing) and camp out under the paintings of Otis Redding, Duane Allman, and Ray Charles to hear what the coaches (but mostly Mark Richt) have to say.
I've seen Mark Richt in this particular setting for several years now. I've seen Mark Richt happy, and Mark Richt mad. I've seen Mark Richt joking, and Mark Richt sad. I've seen Mark Richt talk oversigning, and opponents to be had. I've seen Mark Richt talk injury recovery, sometimes good and sometimes bad.
But I'm going to have to stop there with the rhyming because I don't know what goes with "Mark Richt is grimly determined." We'll have more specifics over the next few days, but frankly Mark Richt didn't seem to be in a great mood today, which is rare for him.
And perhaps we now know why. It appears that once Richt arrived back in Athens from the city that bills itself as the "Song and Soul of the South" that he dismissed just about the only remaining defensive back left from his star-crossed 2013 secondary. Tray Matthews tweeted that he would be leaving the University of Georgia and headed to either Auburn or Louisville.
No details were provided in the University statement regarding the dismissal, other than this quote from Mark Richt:
"We are trying to make room for guys who want to do things right."
And that just about sums up the entirety of the Head Dawg's tenure in Athens, doesn't it? Especially over the last few seasons, and perhaps this offseason more than any other, it's been a constant process of weeding out guys who aren't doing things "the Georgia way." As one veteran team leader (who is himself likely facing a suspension to start the season) said:
We will play and win games with people who are willing to buy in.
— Justin Scott-Wesley (@JSW_86) June 3, 2014
Maybe. And that works well as an aspirational statement. But at a certain point, I think we have to start asking how guys are getting from Signing Day ceremony to unceremonious ouster with such brutal regularity. It's become a savage drain on team depth and experience. You simply cannot win football games at the highest level when you're breaking in new players all over the place all the time. This was supposed to be the season in which the young pups who replaced the 2012 senior-laden unit found their stride. But that's a dream we'll never see. Instead many of those young pups have now left town. It's like the Bulldog defense has been tied to the whipping post.
Tray Matthews started six games as a true freshman and would have started more if not for a recurrent hamstring injury. He likely would have started more in 2014 had he not shown a penchant for petty theft. which got him arrested along with three teammates. I'm not a Doctor, though I play one on a sports blog sometimes. And as a sports blog doctor I know that hamstring injuries are often the result of poor conditioning. And that Mark Richt commented on Matthews' absence from this year's G-Day game that he needed to "take ownership" of his hamstring injury. But it was less than a week ago that Richt was talking about Matthews being at a turning point, and maybe being close to becoming a dependable guy. No one thought the turn in question was a right onto I-75 to head north through the Bluegrass State to Louisville.
If Matthews does in fact head to Louisville, it will be interesting to see how he, Josh Harvey-Clemons, and Shaq Wiggins do in assimilating to the Cardinal culture. We've either dumped a lot of our problems in terms of coaching and attitude in one place, or set up the 2015 Louisville defense to benefit from our high standards. It's really all in your perspective I guess. Right Shaq?
That's what Shaq Wiggins posted on Twitter (among other things) before deleting it. Maybe he's right. But I somewhat doubt it. Mark Richt has won a lot more football games without input from Coach Wiggins than he did with it. Still, it's getting a little old. As a fan, I want our players to do things the right way. And I want players who don't to face the consequences. But at a certain point we absolutely must ask why so many of the promising young football players who come to the University of Georgia end up leaving for disciplinary and legal infractions. Sure part of it is a police force which doesn't look the other way in the same manner that their cohorts in Tuscaloosa and Auburn do. Sure it's a drug policy which is stricter than those of our competitors.
But at a certain point Georgia football as a program has to take ownership of that situation and find a way to stop these problems from reoccurring. Because Mark Richt's job, in addition to molding young men, is to win football games. And he'd have won more football games with Tray Matthews, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Nick Marshall, and Chris Sanders fully committed than he has without them.
Or with the guys he could have recruited who wouldn't have forced him to jettison them. Anyone who doesn't expect a major rebuilding job in the Bulldog secondary in 2014 needs to pull themselves together. The lack of warm bodies alone is now going to hamstring this group pretty badly.
I've gone past the point of caring how this gets straightened out. Don't keep me waiting for a team that does things the right way from the beginning, Coach Richt. Because at this point, like a lot of Bulldog Nation I'm just over it. *
Until later . . .
* I'll give a shout out in this week's Free Form Friday to the astute reader who finds all the Allman Brothers lyrics in this post. Because what's a diatribe about another depth chart disaster without a little whimsy?