“It was definitely not a one-year knee-jerk reaction to this season. It was more of a decision that was made over the course of time. More time than just more than one year.”
That quote from Mark Richt on Wednesday, after he decided that Willie Martinez, Jon Fabris and John Jancek wouldn’t be returning as defensive coaches at Georgia, gets to the heart of the matter.The ebb and flow of defense under Martinez wasn’t the only problem the Dogs have had over the past few seasons, but it was the one that didn’t seem to hold much hope of improvement without a change.
As I noted the other day, Martinez usually coached his charges up a couple of times a year for a big game. But too many times over the past five seasons, since Martinez became coordinator, the Dogs looked poorly prepared on defense.
There were fan complaints about the weakness of the Georgia defense against the run and the tendency to leave receivers uncovered on big plays (”busted coverage,” as it was called) even during Martinez’s first season, the 2005 SEC championship year. Things looked even more dire during the midseason slump in 2006 and I first called for Martinez to be replaced after the Dogs were unable to stop Vanderbilt from driving for a win in Athens. The defensive Dogs rebounded in the last three games of that season, and I thought maybe I had rushed to judgment. They faltered once more early in the 2007 season before again finishing strong. (The Sugar Bowl domination of Hawaii was probably the best night of Martinez’s time as DC.)
Last year, though, the problems seemed more endemic, although the defense again rebounded in the bowl game. And the trend was pretty awful:
After giving up 30 or more points one time in four years under Brian VanGorder, Georgia yielded 30-plus 16 times in five years under Martinez. Worse, the Dogs gave up 37 or more points nine times in the past two seasons. And over the course of Martinez’s tenure as DC, the average number of points yielded per season had ballooned from 14.6 his first season to 26.4 this year (31.5 in SEC games).
Richt couldn’t avoid the need for change any longer.
As for defensive ends coach/special teams coordinator Fabris and linebackers coach/co-defensive coordinator Jancek, they probably would have been doomed even if the performance of their units hadn’t sagged over the past several seasons, because any decent new DC is going to want to bring in his own staff. (Defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner wasn’t let go, but since he’s been working for some time without a contract and has made no secret about his wish to be a head coach, chances are he won’t stick around long-term, either.)
Three good men losing their jobs is no cause for celebration. And as I said the other day, there’s no guarantee a new defensive coordinator will cure what ails the Dogs. But it’s encouraging that Richt recognized it was time for a change and made the move in a decisive manner, rather than simply demoting Martinez and bringing in a new DC to work with the old staff.
Traditionally, defense has been the foundation of successful times for University of Georgia football. There’s no reason that can’t be the case once again for Richt’s program.