It’s been a big day in terms of rumors and rumors of rumors around the Georgia football offices. Let’s catch up with where things stand.
· Rumors surfaced this morning that Jeremy Pruitt had allegedly been fired or resigned and was not even in the football offices. The story making the rounds was that Pruitt had been involved in an actual physical confrontation with another coach (variously Thomas Brown and Tracy Rocker). Mark Richt actually felt the need to speak up on Twitter to dash those whispers.
· While I do not espouse workplace violence, Brian Schottenheimer’s offense sure makes me want to scream and punch things, so I don’t know that I could throw stones here if the rumors were true.
· This may come as a surprise to some people, but there’s a lot of stress that goes into being a football coach in the SEC. I am willing to bet that somewhere in the southeast last Sunday (and every Sunday in the fall) two college football coaches on the same staff got into a screaming match over what showed up on film. If their team wins the next couple of weeks it’s likely all will be forgiven. In all walks of life, people usually only yell about the things they really care about. If the Bulldog coaches weren’t having some spirited discussions after the October they had I’d be shocked and disappointed.
· However that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some tension there that could (and already has had) long term effects. Pruitt’s hiring was so popular among Bulldog fans precisely because it was thought he might ruffle the feathers of a seemingly complacent program. From his impromptu statement last year regarding an indoor practice facility to his fiery relationship with several players (some of whom made the decision to leave the program), it’s no secret that Pruitt is a high energy, perhaps confrontational guy.
· Mark Richt, generally speaking, is not. And there appears to be a lot of smoke to rumors that the tension between the two is becoming an increasing problem. One new angle to that story is the report that some of the tension arises from the performance of the coaching hires Pruitt was given wide control over, like offensive line coach Rob Sale, whose unit has regressed significantly from where it was last season under Will Friend.
· Also not a secret, if not widely discussed, has been the low level tension between Mark Richt and athletic director Greg McGarity. Richt has long lobbied for resources he felt he needed to compete with the rest of the SEC. McGarity has overseen an expansion of football support staff, a major increase in coaches’ salaries, and the initiation of the process which will lead to a world-class indoor practice facility. To some this looks like McGarity recognizing that Richt deserves the resources to help win a national title. To others, it looks like McGarity giving Richt enough gun powder to blow himself up Wile E. Coyote-style. Now there are rumors flying out of Butts-Mehre that McGarity wanted Richt gone after 2014, a position which only the most diehard of anti-Richt fans would have gotten behind. I mean, even for a fanbase as delusional as ours (and I will fight anyone who says UGA fans aren’t at least “particularly hard to please”) firing the guy after he went 10-3 with a new defensive coordinator and a first year starting quarterback would be the kind of thing that makes it really hard to find a replacement. Because that is some real Henry VIII level personnel management.
· These latest rumors have McGarity taking a shine to his former fellow University of Florida employee, Dan Mullen, current coach at Mississippi State. Dan Mullen has a career record of 52-33 in his time in Starkville. He has never lost fewer than three games. He lost at least five games in four of his first five seasons leading the Bizarro Bulldogs. Mississippi State is a tougher job in a lot of ways than Georgia. But it isn’t that much tougher. Also Mullen’s spread-ish offense calls for very different personnel than the one favored by Mark Richt, Mike Bobo, and Brian Schottenheimer. A Mullen hire would be a true “blow it up and start over” plan.
· McGarity finds himself in a difficult spot if Mark Richt throws up his hands and leaves or is fired. Much has been written about the fact that there may be a dozen true major college head coaching openings this offseason. Some schools, like Southern Cal and South Carolina, are already rumored to be reaching out to potential candidate representatives. I don’t think the real danger for Greg McGarity is that he can’t land a top notch coach this winter if he’s in the market. The Georgia job is among the best in the country, and he’ll have plenty of resumes from which to choose. The risk for McGarity is if he is looking for a coach in 2016. Because established Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is far more likely to come home to Mama than new Virginia Tech coach Kirby Smart. Fast-rising Memphis head coach Justin Fuente is far more likely to be interested than newly-minted South Carolina head coach Justin Fuente. We’re talking about a very tough set of decisions that is not being made in a vacuum.
Taken as a whole it’s beginning to look more and more like the next four weeks are truly going to be critical to the future of Bulldog football. It’s going to be nerve-racking. There are going to be rumors, some of which will contain a kernel of truth and others of which are absolute B.S. ginned up by mischievous fans, over-reaching bloggers, and advantage-seeking agents. My advice and my entreaty to you is to take most of it with a grain of salt. We’re going to do everything we can here to help sift the wheat from the chafe and bring you a accurate, balanced, well-sourced information. Until later...