One coach needed to fix his team’s defense to keep moving forward. The other coach needed to fix his team’s defense to stop sliding backward.
Our obsession with college football in the South and 24/7 blogging speaks to why relatively trivial matters like these have dominated the sports landscape for the past several weeks. But if you’re a college football fan in these parts, regardless of your allegiances, this is a day to feel good about your team.
Georgia and Georgia Tech fans seldom agree on everything. Or anything. But all fans have the same desires: 1) They want to know that their team has a chance to win; 2) They want to know their teams care about winning as much as they do. Mark Richt and Paul Johnson reaffirmed that Friday.
At Georgia Tech, Johnson just hired one of
the best defensive coaches in the game in Al Groh. As a head coach at Virginia, Groh was average (59-53). As a defensive assistant, he is well above that. He has long been respected in both college and the NFL, earning trust from the likes of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick.
At Georgia, Mark Richt just hired one of the game’s rising young assistants in Todd Grantham of the Dallas Cowboys. Grantham wasn’t Richt’s first choice, as we all know. But it wasn’t long ago that Brian VanGorder was some obscurity from Western Illinois, via Central Michigan, via Central Florida, via Wayne State. It’s not about winning the press conference, especially when the likes of Nick Saban and Bud Foster are singing your praises..
College football has changed. It has long been a passion around here — it just wasn’t always this all-consuming. But now Johnson feels compelled to change coordinators (Dave Wommack) after two successful seasons and Richt fires a close friend (Willie Martinez) after a significant two-year slide. The debate of whether too much is made of this aside, at least know that two programs took a significant step in the right direction.
“I’ve said it before, it’s a bottom line business,” Johnson said Friday. And then he admitted that his concerns about the Jackets’ defense was taking up too much of his time during the season, that he was being, “spread too thin.”
“I don’t think it was all [the fault of] Dave,” Johnson said. “We had injuries. We had personnel shortages. But the bottom line is it just wasn’t working. To get to where I want to be, it needs to work.”
Asked if he could have foreseen an early staff change 10 or 15 years ago, when the mandate to win wasn’t nearly so emphatic, Johnson said: “I’m not sure it wouldn’t have happened 10 or 15 years ago — it just wouldn’t have been as big a deal. Nobody would’ve known about it because nobody knew who the coordinators were. The whole thing has changed. I like Dave and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. But if you’re in charge of the program and some facet of it is not working, it’s your job to make it work.
“The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and getting the same result. The results weren’t what we desire. In my mind, there was long enough to see a pattern where I felt like we needed to change.”
Richt was slower to see the light on Martinez. The Bulldogs never were as aggressive under Martinez as under VanGorder. But it was only after the disappointments of the last two seasons that Richt made the move. He shot early with three early, hard-to-get picks – Virginia Tech’s Foster, LSU’s John Chavis, Alabama’s Kirby Smart – and it backfired when all three only leveraged the offers to get raises at their existing jobs.
But after a protracted six-week search filled with far too many headaches, Richt may have landed the right guy in Grantham. He played for Beamer and Foster, then coached under them for six years and Saban for three (at Michigan State). There’s a certain thing about osmosis with assistant coaches, and Richt is counting on Grantham to bring that to Athens.
“At Georgia we say, ‘g-a-t-a’ – get after their you-know-what,” Richt said. “I know it will be a sound system, an aggressive system, and a bunch of boys are going to be excited about turning that thing loose.”
The job search, Richt conceded, “took a little while.” He said he was “very prayerful that in the end we would get the right man for the job.”
By all indications, both he and Johnson did. Message sent.