The problem is not just when a defense misses too many tackles.
The problem is not just when coverage is over here but the receiver and the ball are over there.
The problem is not just the 90 points scored by Florida in the past two trips to Jacksonville, or the 80 points scored by Tennessee in the past two games in Knoxville or the 10 games — 10 games — over the past two seasons when opponents have scored 34 or more points.
The big problem: Nobody fears playing Georgia anymore.
The Bulldogs need more than a solid game plan on defense. They need a pulse. They need the passion and aggressiveness and bone-jarring collisions we see, hear and practically feel when Florida and Alabama play — when almost any consistent national power plays.
That’s what they were under Brian VanGorder. That’s not what they had become under Willie Martinez.
“I want to make sure we’re playing Georgia ball,” Mark Richt said Wednesday night after announcing the firings of three defensive coaches, including Martinez, his friend and defensive coordinator. “Playing with the type of speed and intensity that it takes to be champions. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Richt made the right move Wednesday, even if a couple of days late. Had the announcement come Monday, as many anticipated, rumors would not have spun out of control over the next 48 hours.
When ESPN reported via Twitter earlier in the day that Martinez had been fired, it was not received well in the Georgia football offices. Why? Because several members of the coaching staff had not been informed yet. No announcement had been made. Even though Martinez’s eventual firing had been expected for weeks — at least since the 45-19 loss at Tennessee in October — that kind of blindside Wednesday could have been avoided, especially during this recruiting period.
Richt didn’t say when he finalized his decision, only that he didn’t inform coaches until Wednesday. “It was definitely not a one-year knee-jerk reaction to this season,” he said. “It was more of a decision that was made over the course of time.”
That course: at least two seasons, maybe three.
Martinez stepped up from secondary coach to coordinator in 2005, when VanGorder left. In his first three seasons, the Dogs allowed 34 or more points four times in 39 games. But in the past two years, they’ve seen opponents roll up 41 (Alabama), 38 (LSU), 49 (Florida), 38 (Kentucky), 45 (Georgia Tech), 37 (South Carolina), 41 (Arkansas), 45 (Tennessee), 41 (Florida) and 34 (Kentucky).
That’s significant erosion. Teams can’t win like that. Programs can’t compete like that. They become second-tier, and that’s were Georgia is right now. Evidence? This season’s record: 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the SEC.
Richt made the right choice, the only choice.
Nobody likes to see people lose their jobs. But the Dogs’ defense has slipped too far. Attitude has slipped too far. How opponents perceive Georgia has slipped too far. The Dogs had become passive, soft, even predictable. They seldom dictated. They mostly reacted.
Richt clearly felt the problem ran deeper than just Martinez. So defensive ends coach Jon Fabris and linebackers coach John Jancek also were let go. But he also must realize that problems usually start at the top. Richt needs to demand more accountability among coaches and players.
In a statement released immediately following the firings, he said, “In the final analysis, I’m charged with providing the leadership and direction for the Georgia program and sometimes that means making difficult decisions. This was one of them.”
It was long overdue.