It was two years ago when we introduced our inaugural “How They Really Stand” rankings for local sports teams. The Georgia football team was so overwhelmed by the moment of being listed No. 1 that coach Mark Richt decided to keep defensive coordinator Willie Martinez for two more seasons, and well, OK — the bowl devolution from Sugar to Capital One to Shreveport, that’s all my fault.
This is how the rankings work. There is no mathematical formula. There are no computers. There is no Harris poll. It’s a completely subjective set of rankings based on records in the most current season, projections for the immediate future, recent transactions, management, coaching, direction, ownership, leadership, structure, stability, drafts (or recruiting), fan support and — in extremely rare circumstances — bizarre issues that might find owners buried in litigation for over four years running (hypothetically speaking).
So who’s No. 1? Same as last year’s No. 1. (Last year’s ranking is in parenthesis.)
♦ 1. Falcons (1): They didn’t meet expectations in 2009. But they have the best GM-coach combination of the four pro teams and there’s no reason to doubt direction. The to-do list:
Thomas Dimitroff needs to fix the defense, Mike Smith needs to smooth out the team’s inconsistencies and Matt Ryan must show everybody that his rookie season wasn’t an aberration. A good kicker wouldn’t hurt, either.
♦ 2. Braves (4): I know. Seems strange to jump the Braves two spots after a winter that included trading Javier Vazquez for a fourth outfielder and a box of Ding Dongs. But general manager Frank Wren had some good moves during last season to set things up for the future. The pitching staff – led by Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens – should be among baseball’s best. Also, good move by president John Schuerholz bringing Tom Glavine back into the fold as an assistant in the front office, even if Glavine’s likely first move will be to cut the legs off Wren’s desk chair.
♦ 3. Hawks (5): Rick Sund had the best offseason among the general managers. He re-signed every important player and added Jamal Crawford. He’s rolling the dice a little bit with Joe Johnson and Mike Woodson each in the final year of their respective contracts. But you can sort of understand the mindset if something goes wrong in the playoffs. Either way, Josh Smith and Al Horford aren’t going anywhere.
♦ 4. Georgia Tech football (3): The Jackets weren’t dropped so much as they were passed. Paul Johnson has exceeded expectations in his two seasons. He won the ACC. But it wouldn’t hurt to win a bowl game — or at least not get body-slammed. Player losses could hurt next season. But Johnson was quick to react to a problem on his coaching staff and hired Al Groh as the new defensive coordinator. Careful: He’s old but angry.
♦ 5. Georgia football (2): Martinez: Exit, stage lift. But the Bulldogs’ slide hasn’t been all about the defense. They have been generally soft on both sides of the ball, and error prone. It doesn’t mean the program is crumbling. But Mark Richt is coming off a 4-4 season in the SEC, where life expectancy is less than in other conferences. Also, while you know how I feel about people’s over obsession with recruiting, it doesn’t look good when the state’s No. 1 recruit (Da’Rick Rogers) pulls the chute in the 11th hour.
♦ 6. (This space for lease.)
♦ 7. Georgia Tech basketball (7): Paul Hewitt can recruit. And sometimes win. But if the Jackets miss the NCAA tournament with this roster, Hewitt’s out of excuses, and he knows it.
♦ 8. Georgia basketball (8): The fact the Bulldogs already have upset three ranked teams (Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt) is a testament to Mark Fox’s coaching ability. The fact
Georgia was 2-7 in the SEC entering the weekend and has lost by 16 to UAB, 28 to Missouri, 16 to Florida and 19 to Auburn reflects the roster Fox has to work with. But if he can keep some talent in the state, Georgia will move up quickly in the SEC.
♦ 9. Dream (9): Good news: Atlanta’s WNBA team went from 4-30 to 18-16 in its second season. Bad news: Nobody cared and the Dream even got kicked out of Philips Arena for Sesame Street Live in the playoffs. Don’t mess with Elmo.
♦ 10. Thrashers (10): There is some young talent. But Ilya Kovalchuk is gone, playoff chances are on a respirator again, six former No. 1 picks are either playing elsewhere or out of hockey, and even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is banging on ownership. Words like growth and stability don’t come to mind.