(UPDATED AT 7 p.m. with Mark Richt statement.)
For the past two months at least — or since about the time most believed Georgia would land running back Isaiah Crowell in recruiting — there have been rumors that Washaun Ealey might transfer to Georgia Southern.
But what happened Tuesday when Ealey was suspended indefinitely isn’t about Crowell. It’s about Ealey –and maybe a little about coach Mark Richt.
Ealey has been inconsistent as a player,which is why the Bulldogs so desperately needed to land Crowell on national letter of intent day. But the more significant issues with the sophomore relating to his future in Athens have been off the field. Ealey’s arrest for a hit-and-run incident last summer — after multiple warnings about driving with a suspended license — infuriated Richt.
Rumors have been flying for the past 24 hours that Ealey last week missed a “punishment run,” which are handed out for things like missing tutoring sessions. Rumors morphed into conclusions that Ealey was kicked off the team. If that’s true, nobody is saying it. Georgia’s official response for now is only that Ealey is still on the team.
UPDATE: Here’s a statement from Richt:
“We have certain expectations and standards that apply to all our student-athletes. We expect them to do things the right way, the Georgia way. If Washaun does things the Georgia way, he’ll be back in good standing.”
But Ealey might want to take this as a hint, and transfer. He has two years of eligibility left and he’s in a pretty deep hole with Richt. Working his way out of that now might be impossible and transferring might be his best option. Richt has become increasingly “tough on crime” in the past year, which is a good sign.
Since signing day, we’ve learned to what lengths Richt went to land Crowell. Debbie Crowell, the player’s mother, confirmed to our Steve Hummer that Richt had Georgia players line up in an offensive formation in the new indoor practice facility during Crowell’s official visit. The only vacant position was running back. An excerpt from the story:
The 18-year-old and his family were shown to Richt’s new office, overlooking the recently completed indoor practice facility. As they visited, the Crowells noticed activity down below. Players began filing onto the practice field.
“We got up and looked out,” said Debbie Crowell, Isaiah’s mother. “I didn’t know what was going on, but Isaiah could tell that they were getting into formation. And there wasn’t a tailback.”
The stage was set. Richt escorted the family down to the field. Crowell was handed a Georgia jersey — No. 1 on the back — and a helmet and asked if he wanted to take that empty spot in the backfield. Debbie Crowell remembers Richt painting the scene of next season’s opener against Boise State, asking her son if he could see himself in that jersey and helmet, behind that offensive line, starting his career in the din of the Georgia Dome.
“Yes, sir, I can,” Isaiah said.
“My baby was excited. He was ready to go,” Debbie said.
Assuming Ealey learned of that, he couldn’t feel too great about his future in Athens.
Another running back, Caleb King, has been a disappointment and rumors of his exit also have circulated. The difference is that King has only one season of eligibility remaining and it might not be worth it to transfer.
When Richt recruited Crowell, he told him to imagine himself as Georgia’s starting running back. The coach then went public after his signing, saying Crowell could be “carrying the rock” as the starting back in the opener against Boise State.
But this is not all about Crowell’s potential. It’s about the way Ealey has imploded. There was a time it was his job to lose — and he lost it.
By Jeff Schultz