ATHENS — On the day spring football came to a close for Georgia, nobody got arrested, nobody got high, nobody claimed to make the mistake of eating brownies baked by Dolly Madison’s Bohemian, hippie sister and certainly no coach yelled, “Wooo! Pig Sooie!” while exchanging 4,300 text messages with the nation’s best-paid, smokin’ blonde, student-athlete development coordinator.
Relatively speaking, Saturday’s G-Day game was nirvana.
But the annual spring game contrasted the past few months. A reported seven players (at least) were suspended or drop-kicked out of Athens for assorted legal missteps or rules violations. Coach Mark Richt appropriately called Saturday, “good medicine.”
Or a needed cleansing.
To suggest the Georgia program has jumped the rails would be overstatement. But Richt and his players know how this sort of thing plays publicly, particularly going into the summer, when free time too often breeds problems. Hot days, cold beer, long nights … you know the formula.
“We’re well-aware of what can happen now,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “There’s been some incidents that have occurred, and the guys don’t want that kind of attention. They don’t want the additional stress on coach Richt or on the team. There’s a negative image, and we want to get rid of it.”
Six players graced the cover of the spring guide. Only four of them made it to the scrimmage program cover Saturday. Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree were cropped out for expected drug suspensions.
Three other players — Chris Sanders, Nick Marshall and Sanford Seay — were kicked off the team for their involvement in a theft. Sanders Commings was suspended two games following a charge for domestic violence. The other reported suspensions were marijuana-related (though not confirmed by the school): Ogletree (failed drug test, one game), Rambo (failed drug test, four games), Branden Smith (possession, one game).
Steve Spurrier isn’t one to miss an easy punch line. So when asked about the South Carolina-Georgia game being moved from the second week to the sixth, Spurrier swung away. “I sort of always liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended,” he told ESPN.
Here’s the positive news for Richt: He learned something about the resolve of his players last season. The Dogs reeled off 10 consecutive wins following an 0-2 start. Most of those players return in 2012.
The opener against Buffalo isn’t an issue — Richt could plug holes with 10 kids pulled out of the cafeteria line at the Tate Center and still win that game. Game 2 at Missouri might be a little stickier.
What the Dogs’ can’t afford are any more storylines with the words “arrest” or “drug test” in them. This summer will show if the past few months have been some aberration. It also may determine where next season finishes on the average-to-special scale.
“I think I’ve got a good pulse of what’s going on internally, and I don’t sense there are team-related issues that are of major concern,” athletic director Greg McGarity said. “We’ve got some spots where we need tightening up, but that’s true with every program.”
But McGarity is aware of the perception.
“We’re getting beat up a lot — and maybe we can do some things where we don’t have to get beat up so much,” he said.
Elaborating: McGarity said Georgia may begin a practice of not announcing any disciplinary action of players, unless there’s a legal issue that would make it unavoidable.
“If you announce that somebody has violated team policy today, you have to read about it for five months before the first game,” McGarity said. “Do we need to put ourselves in that position?”
There’s only one flaw with that thinking: Almost everything leaks out at some point, and Georgia has a better chance to control the message with a formal announcement.
The bigger issue, though, is eliminating the problems altogether. We can debate all day whether problems among an athletic program exceed the general student population. But the reality is that nobody really cares about the average poultry-sciences major.
McGarity said he meets with Richt “frequently — enough to know where he stands on things.” He knows how this has worn on the coach.
“He feels good about the program, but like anyone he feels frustrated,” he said. “He hates to take time away when something pop up. It can be burdensome.”
There’s an easy answer: Just get 100 kids to promise, “I will not get into trouble.”
Also, maybe buy a lottery ticket.
By Jeff Schultz