(UPDATED at 3:30 p.m. with booking and suspension.)
Before you dismiss this as just another trivial arrest in a 24-7, TMZ flip-cam media world, ask yourself this:
What would you be thinking if this was Florida or Alabama or Tennessee? Would your first reaction be, “This is no big deal. Everybody is picking on us”?
What if this was Nick Saban or Urban Meyer or Houston “I’m Just Trying To Save The World One Quarterback At A Time” Nutt? Would you really be absolving the head coach — in this case, Mark Richt — of any responsibility?
Georgia’s football program has hit nine on the arrest chart. That’s nine since March.
Kickoff is Saturday. There’s still time to run out of fingers.
Here’s the latest: Campus police have booked freshman safety Alec Ogletree on misdemeanor charges of theft by taking and he has been suspended for the season opener. Ogletree, a prized member of their 2010 recruiting class, is charged with stealing a $35 scooter helmet from the Rankin Smith Center on June 15 (police discovering only this week that the helmet was in his possession).
Forget that we’re only talking about a $35 helmet. There’s no such thing as a minor incident any more. There’s a cumulative effect.
I realize this is difficult for some people to accept. We live for this time of year, not just because of our obsession with college football but because, as Richt said this week, “It’s good to be undefeated.” What you feel in Athens, they feel even in Starkville.
But when nine players get arrested between spring and opening kickoff, something is wrong.
Please, no more apologies.
I’ve had it with apologists. They live among the fan base (who claim police are just out to get athletes). They live among the coaching fraternity (because to blame another coach sets themselves up for higher standards). They live among the media (some of whom are too afraid of burning bridges with the program and not having the coach smile at them any more).
Bottom line: This falls on Richt. It’s his program. It’s his responsibility. It’s on his watch.
He doesn’t have to be the one drinking-and-driving. Or hitting-and-running. Or drinking-and-groping. Richt recruited these players, signed these players and ultimately determined, “They will represent the University of Georgia well.” Either he is picking too many of the wrong guys, or he’s not saying or doing enough of the right things when they get here. Regardless, don’t deny the problem.
Richt said Friday he was “disappointed” and that Ogletree is “responsible for a poor decision and will serve a minimum one-game suspension.” He was so angry when running back Washaun Ealey was arrested for a hit-and-run — which occurred while he was driving with a suspended license — that he didn’t even want to speak to Ealey. That anger is justified. The question is whether his suspension of Ealey will last beyond the Louisiana-Lafayette game — because that’s a small notch above running steps in Sanford Stadium.
Forcing Ealey to miss the South Carolina game — that would hurt. Of course, that also would hurt Georgia, and the South Carolina game is really important, right?
When asked at his news conference this week if, in so many words, there was a flaw in his discipline structure, Richt responded: “The flaw is if a guy does something that deserves to be disciplined and you don’t discipline him. That’s where the flaw is. The flaw is in us as humans. We’re flawed, we’re human, we make mistakes. When we make a mistake, then we get disciplined for it. As long as we have 18- to 22-year old guys who are human beings, they are going to make mistakes. That’s just all there is to it. If you don’t discipline it, you have a problem. If they don’t learn from it, then they have a problem.”
Actually, it goes beyond that. If players don’t learn from it, Richt has a problem. And he does.
No more excuses. This falls on him.
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