Grantham now providing the right highlights at Georgia

Mark Richt and Todd Grantham both received contract extensions. (Brant Sanderlin)

Mark Richt and Todd Grantham both earned contract extensions. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

ATHENS – Once you get past the standard, astronomic, cartoon-like expectations of spring — Will Georgia go 13-1 next season? Maybe 14-0 if the dang, cheatin’ refs ain’t from Bessemer? — it’s worth noting that Todd Grantham has accomplished something pretty significant in Athens.

Something even bigger than evolving from sideline sideshow on YouTube — and who knew that was possible?

The Bulldogs, the team headed by a former offensive coordinator (Mark Richt), the program that recently had produced the likes of A.J. Green and Matthew Stafford — only to too often get punched in the mouth by Alabama, Florida or LSU — has discovered the key to success in the SEC.

Defense.

Who knew?

It’s important to note that college football in general, and the SEC in particular, doesn’t mirror the changing NFL. The pros have become pass-happy on offense. That means nickel defenses are now the rule, not the exception (which means old-school middle linebackers such as Curtis Lofton, who neither pass rush nor drop into coverage, can’t command the lofty free-agent dollars they used to).

But defense still rules in the SEC, and this is where Georgia’s return to relevance comes in.

When Grantham — Richt’s fourth choice as defensive coordinator — was hired two years ago, the Dogs were coming off a season in which they ranked 38th in total defense and 63rd in points against. The question wasn’t whether Willie Martinez would get fired, the question was whether he would be able to make it out of the parking lot.

Oh, boy. Here we go again.

Oh, boy. Here we go again.

Grantham, now in his third spring with the Dogs, has brought success — the defense ranked fifth in yardage last season, 23rd in scoring and third in third-down efficiency– but more important he has changed the mentality and the focus at Georgia.

When asked what is different now from what he saw on tape from Georgia players when he arrived, Grantham said, “The biggest thing we’ve done is we’ve become more resilient. We’ve learned to play every play. Did guys learn our system better last season? Yes. Were guys more comfortable? Yes. But playing the next play, competing, playing the game the way you’re supposed to, with effort, with toughness — that’s it. We’re tougher mentally. We’re tougher physically.”

There will be no cartoon-like predictions here. But that change in philosophy, combined with the Dogs’ soft-as-nougat-schedule next season, does set up for a potentially — potentially — special season. Also, Grantham seems to have learned from his own head-exploding tendencies.

“I’m driven,” he said, in comical understatement.

Driven — sort of like how Yosemite Sam was driven to get Bugs Bunny, only to inadvertently wire his boot to the dynamite.

Grantham admits he has “lived and learned. There are cameras everywhere.”

Two years ago, one spotted him grabbing his throat and yelling, “You’re gonna [bleepin'] choke” at Florida kicker Chas Henry, as the 21-year-old was lining up for a potential game-winning field goal.

Last season came the postgame skirmish with Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, fueled in part by Grantham’s beliefs that the Commodores were playing dirty.

Days following each incident, Grantham expressed regret. “I’ll use it as a learning experience,” he said of the Franklin confrontation.

So it won’t happen again?

“We’ll see,” he said, smiling. “When you put a hundred hours a week into something, you’ve got a pretty vested interest in it.”

Two embarrassing incidents had the potential to derail things. But Grantham has managed to overcome, well, himself.

The defense succeeded last season despite having 11 different lineups in 14 games because of suspensions and injuries. Georgia has great athletes, but that always has been the case. College teams aren’t defined by the number of stars on letter-of-intent day, they’re defined by how players develop and play.

“In this profession you either get better or worse, so you can’t stop teaching,” Grantham said. “In the pros [as an assistant with Dallas] I saw that if a guy knew that you could make him better and extend his career, you never had issues with him. At this level, you’re obviously developing more. But when players know you have a genuine interest in them and they believe in you, that goes a long ways.”

Grantham spent 11 years in the NFL. When asked if he prefers coaching in college, he said, “Obviously, I wanted to come here. I was friends with Nick Saban and used to watch him when he was at LSU. Systematically, we’re pretty similar. I felt like we could have that kind of success.”

The Dogs aren’t nearly at the Saban level of success. But at least they’ve figured out which side of the ball matters most.

By Jeff Schultz

458 comments Add your comment

ngr7921

March 27th, 2012
9:12 pm

First my freinds

ngr7921

March 27th, 2012
9:13 pm

BamaDawg

March 27th, 2012
9:13 pm

Finally, could it be a pro-UGA article in the AJC?

Strange Murphy

March 27th, 2012
9:16 pm

GATA GRANTHAM!!! WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!!!

Adel Purvis

March 27th, 2012
9:16 pm

1st Way to Coach Grantham!

BG

March 27th, 2012
9:21 pm

Jeff, Thanks for writing a pro UGA story. I was starting to think the AJC was located in Gainesville, FL.

BG

March 27th, 2012
9:22 pm

Grantham is the shi*.

RedPantsDawg

March 27th, 2012
9:25 pm

Anyone want Willie Martinez back now? Just imagine where we would be at now if Willie had been fired after the 2008 season instead of burning another year.

a unreasonable person

March 27th, 2012
9:27 pm

Nick Saban High School ?

DawgLink

March 27th, 2012
9:28 pm

Grantham is the real deal. It is great to see some emotion on the field. Intensity is his middle name.

Bubba J.

March 27th, 2012
9:28 pm

I love Grantham. He is exactly what UGA needed. Hard-nosed, no bs guy. That’s how I want my defense, just some tough sob’s. And you’re darn right they’ll fight for this guy, they’ve seen him fight for them, almost literally. I’m very excited about the future. If these kids would just realize, they’ve got to fight for Georgia, and for each other. It’s gonna be a good year.

bdawg

March 27th, 2012
9:31 pm

Booyah! Good to finally see some fire on the sidelines, plus a hell of a coach. Thanks CTG!!!

5150 UOAD

March 27th, 2012
9:32 pm

We will see when UGa has a harder schedule.

Steve

March 27th, 2012
9:34 pm

Come on guys. The AJC, just like almsot all of the Atlanta media, loves UGA a lot more than GT. Heck even during the season on Atlanta’s WSB they have a show called Bulldawgs Gameday/Gameweek. Tech doesn’t even get that in their own city, ha. That’s what happens when your football team does not matter, loses to UGA annually, and wins/gets excited about 7-8 win seasons. Oh and losing 6-7 bowl games in a row does not help : )

Steve

March 27th, 2012
9:34 pm

GTBob

March 27th, 2012
9:34 pm

Granthams defense gets a little more credit then it deserves. If you look across the entire SEC, offensive numbers have dropped considerably over the past few years and UGA played the worst of the worst. Even with that the numbers tend to look a lot worse against winning teams and UGA gave up almost 40 points a game against ranked teams. There is also the fun stat of red zone defense which UGA was 116th in the country. Overall he improved UGA’s defense some but it isn’t anywhere close to an elite LSU/Bama like defense.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

March 27th, 2012
9:36 pm

JS- new headline…Welcome to Grantham City!!! (my lame knockoff of Gotham CIty). Love his approach & attitude. Defense will be better than last year.

Nate the Great

March 27th, 2012
9:36 pm

Love the optimism Shultzie!! I’ll save any optimism for a NC for after the AU game, but please keep those good vibes flowin’!!

A Father

March 27th, 2012
9:37 pm

Great article, if you would please take over writing about GA football.

Biggest Question once again skipped: Is it true that you are unwilling to sign your contract extension that is being offered? I was told from the beginning that Todd Grantham wants a huge sum of money and if not offered such would not sign. Huge is alot more than 1 million a year. GA fans need to enjoy 2012 because it will be Todd Granthams swan song in Athens.

Steve

March 27th, 2012
9:39 pm

Look everyone! It’s GTBob! The guy with no life or woman who waits all day for a UGA blog so he can go on and make silly comments. I guess that’s what happens when you are a Tech fan. Poor little boy.

Nate the Great

March 27th, 2012
9:44 pm

A Father. More like a fool. Making up crap about something he knows nothing of. Name you super secret “insider source”! You have nothing and are a techie with little self esteem so you talk trash on a blog!! Loser

GTBob

March 27th, 2012
9:48 pm

The guy with no life or woman who waits all day for a UGA blog so he can go on and make silly comments.

Im just trying to keep the conversation going. Wouldn’t it be a little boring if all the UGA fans (including Jeff) were just sitting in a circle, holding hands, and praising the almighty Grantham after 1 average year and one slightly above average year? Dissenting opinion is good sometimes.

NRBQ

March 27th, 2012
9:48 pm

GTBob:

As relevant as teats on a bo-hawg.

5150 UOAD

March 27th, 2012
9:51 pm

In that picture it looks like Richt and Grantham BOTH have nice sets of Man Boobs going. Richt is still in the training Manzier phase. LOL

John

March 27th, 2012
9:53 pm

I know that Coach Gratham was exactly what UGA needed. Emotions and a Teacher/Developer of Talent. Keep Up the good work…… Nubian Eyes are Watching

A Father

March 27th, 2012
9:54 pm

nate the great: why has Grantham refused to sign a new contract? Not sayin, just sayin!! That’s right, not looking good in having Grantham sign anything.

Steve

March 27th, 2012
9:54 pm

Awww 5150 is jealous also like GTBob. Kinda cute. Y’all should go to the playground together sometime.

John

March 27th, 2012
9:54 pm

515 UOAD, do you ever have anything good to say. Try it…. you may like it

GTBob

March 27th, 2012
9:58 pm

You know why Grantham is really mad at Franklin in the picture above? Because he just gave up more points and yards to Vandy then they had the previous two games combined.

Nate the Great

March 27th, 2012
10:01 pm

Neither has Richt. Should I be worried? No really. Same with Grantham. You always take care of the CEO before any other manager. That’s business. You have a new problem every day. And nothing positive to say. Ever. Still a loser

Nate the Great

March 27th, 2012
10:02 pm

That precious comment was directed at “a father” btw

Nate the Great

March 27th, 2012
10:03 pm

Previous*. Kinda precious though:)

5150 UOAD

March 27th, 2012
10:08 pm

John..the Tech blog has somebody call CPJ Moobs everyday. i guess he is too blind to see Your coaches have them too. You will see what Grantham has next year with a harder schedule and losing around 9 D starters.

Dawg Whisperer

March 27th, 2012
10:18 pm

Nate… that’s A Father’s way of expressing his love for those he cares about. A Father is concerned for his children and wishes them only the best. He sacrifices and works to improve the lot of his beloved trade school… er, children. After all, A Father knows best.

Dawg Haus

March 27th, 2012
10:22 pm

I was lucky enough to chat with CTG for a bit after the Tech game. He’s a good dude with a deep passion for the game. We’re blessed to have him.

Truth be told

March 27th, 2012
10:23 pm

“too often punched in the face by Alabama”

Schultz, did you know UGA has beaten Alabama 3 of the last 4 meetings??

Tift Dawg

March 27th, 2012
10:24 pm

I pray that Grantham is the next head coach at UGA. I hope UGA has learned a lesson from the past. Dooley retired and skipped over Erk Russell and hired Ray Goff. Erk won national titles at Ga Southern. I hope and pray Grantham is offered the job when Richt retires or leaves. Grantham has a passion, drive, and will to win that is a trait of a champion.

General Mills

March 27th, 2012
10:24 pm

Defense definetly wins championships.Go dawgs.Can’t lose if they dont’t score.Go Dawgs !!!

The Grinch

March 27th, 2012
10:35 pm

Jeff, are you sure you didn’t mean Elmer Fudd?

01HAWK

March 27th, 2012
10:37 pm

The Dogs aren’t nearly at the Saban level of success.

Never will be.

Bad news for UGA and SEC………………………………….SABAN staying at BAMA til retirement.

ROLL TIDE ROLL

JimDog85

March 27th, 2012
10:38 pm

Hey guys – does anyone else get worried when the AJC keeps telling us what a cupcake schedule the Dogs have next year. I remember last year when they told us our kicking game was going to be best in the nation and our field goal kicker wasn’t going to miss a kick. That didn’t work out too well for us. We still have to play Floriduh, Tenneseeeee, and South Cakalacka next year. I think we need to start holding these reporters feet to the fire and take these articles with one big grain of salt! Just sayin’…

Ted Striker

March 27th, 2012
10:42 pm

Fine fine column.

slawdawg

March 27th, 2012
10:43 pm

GT Bob…9:34pm…..I still give the UGA defense credit for helping spank GT a## up & down the field, lets C, the last 9 out of 10 years I believe. Yes I know, Tech does run a dog & pony show offense & they are not in the SEC…..Say this with me…..UGA…2011 SEC EAST CHAMPS….NOW there’s a stat I can live with!!!!!!!!

funny...

March 27th, 2012
10:44 pm

The choke sign was childish but certainly not the worst thing to happen on a football field.

The Vanderbilt incident I have no problem with that, he’s protecting his players.

GTBob

March 27th, 2012
10:48 pm

Say this with me…..UGA…2011 SEC EAST CHAMPS….NOW there’s a stat I can live with!!!!!!!!

Are you really getting excited about winning half a conference?

slawdawg

March 27th, 2012
10:52 pm

As a Tech fan, what gets you excited? 1st downs?

GTBob

March 27th, 2012
10:53 pm

The Vanderbilt incident I have no problem with that, he’s protecting his players.

Yes, im sure Franklin was about to whip up on all of the UGA defensive players. That is logical thinking.

5150 UOAD

March 27th, 2012
11:01 pm

funny…how was Grantham protecting the Aggressors causing the problems. It was all started by the UGa players. Grantham was just being a bully too.

Mountain Dawg

March 27th, 2012
11:13 pm

GTBob, it’s after eleven. Time to kiss Mommy night, night and turn out the light. Have sweet dreams of Reggie Ball counting to four (4).

pj

March 27th, 2012
11:23 pm

Look at the depth chart on D this year that Grantham has developed. DT – he has Big Jon Jenkins and Kwame – even Saban would take that 1-2punch. His ends include Abry Jones, Garrison Smith, Derrick Lott – and now Cornelious (who is a pass rushing moster) and Reverend Drew (who is filling out his beastlike frame)
Linebackers? Jarvis “All American” Jones and Alec Ogletree – who will be one by anyone’s standards. Mike Gilliard and Herrerra killed it last year and Christian Robinson is a natural born leader. Throw in Ramil Wilson and Josh Harvey as a Freshman and that is one hell of a 2 deep.

Shawn Williams and B Rambo might be the best Safety combo in the conference and if Swann and MM can get through the Missouri game, we get B Smith and Commings back – both big time speed guys.
2013 will be a different story, but this year’s D has the makings of something absolutely epic and vicious.