Two items of note to start us off: Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs begin spring practice Saturday (more about that below), and the votes have been counted from the eight weeks of 50th anniversary online balloting to pick the greatest moment in Stegeman Coliseum history.
Out of all the many memorable times at the Steg, the one that has been picked as the single greatest is Gym Dog Karin Lichey scoring a perfect 40 on her four events in a meet against Kentucky in 1996.
Lichey’s feat, getting a perfect 10 score on each event, is unequaled in NCAA gymnastics history. It drew nearly 70 percent of the vote (including mine), beating out the Georgia men’s basketball team’s 2004 upset win over No. 3-ranked Georgia Tech.
GTV talks to Lichey and former UGA gymnastics coach Suzanne Yoculan in a special video feature that includes footage from that unforgettable night. Great stuff.
Now, let’s get to some Junkyard Mail …
Michael Johnson writes: Bill, I see all the sports sites that cover Georgia have run down the major theme of this year’s spring practice, which is the rebuilding of the defense, and no doubt all Dawgs fans are watching that anxiously. I’m especially worried about what Todd Grantham is going to do to come up with a stouter run defense, considering Alabama and other teams pretty much ran at will against Georgia even with all that future NFL talent we had last year. Do you agree? What are your other biggest concerns this spring?
You’re right that doing a better job against the run should be high on Grantham’s to-do list for this coming season. But that’s just one of the areas that concern me as spring practice gets under way. Overall, I feel really good about the level of defensive talent Georgia has already in Athens and on its way this summer, but you don’t replace the experience and production of the likes of Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo at linebacker and in the secondary overnight. For me, the key concern is whether Grantham and his staff are going to be able to identify enough playmakers in time to handle Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in September.
Another ongoing concern is special teams. I think punter Collin Barber was coming along pretty nicely by the end of last season, but placekicker Marshall Morgan is still wildly inconsistent and the Georgia coaching staff doesn’t appear to have a clue how to handle kickers with problems. I’m not sure that Richt studying up on kicking during the offseason is going to be enough to provide Morgan with the guidance he needs. Plus, Georgia’s production in the return game, both punts and kickoffs, was disappointing last year. Those are scoring opportunities we’re not exploiting, and that concerns me.
Lastly, I’ve got my fingers crossed about any “violations of team rules” that might result from the upcoming UGA spring break. With a September schedule like the Dogs have this year, this team certainly can’t afford to have a bunch of players missing those early games due to suspensions.
Several readers are concerned that UGA athletic director Greg McGarity’s tight-fisted financial policies are going to hurt the athletic program (mainly football) in the long run. Sam Kamar writes: Any idea why UGA lags behind: 1) still no indoor practice facility 2) hiring analysts to help evaluate/identify talent. UGA is sitting on a large amount of money and seems to be dragging their feet about doing the things that would help in recruiting, don’t you think? Along those same lines, 3rd Degree Dawg writes: I have 3 UGA degrees on the wall. That being said, I’m not sure that I’m all that excited about the “we’re above it all” stance that the AD is taking. It smacks of Michael Adams. The fact is the fan base is not going to continue to make the Athletic Department one of the richest in America if we are resigned to being the Harvard of the South academically and average as grits on the football field. And Chris Pugh writes: I find it very upsetting that UGA is not spending the money that Bama, LSU and Florida are spending on their programs. If we don’t change, I kinda see UGA always being behind Bama. What’s your take on that?
First of all, I’m not sure an indoor practice facility is the most important issue for Georgia’s program. While Jim Donnan badly wanted one and Richt echoed that desire early in his tenure, he later opted to get a renovated and expanded training facility instead, and I think that probably was the right call. Yes, many schools have indoor practice fields, but not all major programs think it’s necessary. Florida doesn’t. In general, I appreciate the fact that McGarity and his predecessors have conservatively managed UGA’s athletic resources. I certainly think he has a point that an arms race in which schools try to outspend each other on expanded recruiting staffs, giant media guides and lifesize posters of every recruit probably isn’t good for the game overall in the long run. But if the new rules aren’t overridden and Bama and others continue to aggressively reinvest their earnings in their recruiting efforts, I think Georgia is going to have to take advantage of the fact that it’s one of slightly less than two dozen college athletic programs in the country that actually turn a profit. As much as it might pain McGarity, he’s going to have to turn loose more of that $64.4 million in reserves if Georgia is going to keep up. And not just in recruiting. Already, UGA is way behind most other SEC schools in the amount and length of the contracts it gives its assistant coaches, and thus you’re likely to see Mike Bobo get an absolutely whopping raise this year just to catch up.
HarveyDawg writes: Bill, what are your thoughts on the Rev. Ray Drew? For a five-star recruit, his first couple of years in Athens certainly have been underwhelming. Now, I realize he was playing behind some experienced talent that’s going on to the NFL, but do you think he’s going to rise to the occasion now, or wind up being considered a bust?
I haven’t given up on the “pastor of pass rush” yet. So far, we’ve only seen him playing off the bench, and remember that he was moved from outside linebacker to end before he really had the size needed for that position. Now that he’s bigger and considered the favorite to be the starter at the other defensive end position, opposite Garrison Smith, I’m hopeful we’ll see evidence of what all that hype was about. But if not, there are others on the defensive line ready to take that spot, so Drew needs to make his move this spring. As Richt said recently, Georgia has “young players that are going to get their opportunity to show that they can play the game.”
David Gray writes: Bill, I am also a lifelong fan of the Dawgs. Both my Dad and I went to UGA. I wondered what your thoughts are on what Coach Richt is going to do about a recruiting coordinator to replace Rodney Garner? While I know the relationship between the position coach and the player is critical, it just seems like a really coordinated effort is called for. Although the position coaches are really effective in dealing with the the players that they may be directly coaching, some overall master coordination, consistent strategy, and effective contact/outreach is needed.
You’re right, David. In addition to having position coaches develop relationships with prospective recruits, overall coordination is a key to a program having consistently successful recruiting. From what Richt has said during the offseason, he appears to have concluded that he doesn’t really need one of his assistant coaches to be saddled with that responsibility on top of their on-field work with players and recruiting work at the specific position they oversee. Instead, it looks like former high school coach Daryl Jones, hired last year as director of on-campus recruiting, is going to coordinate Georgia’s recruiting, even if he doesn’t have that title. And, really, I don’t see a problem with that approach. Quite a few observers questioned whether Garner was really that effective as coordinator of UGA’s overall recruiting efforts in his latter years in Athens.
Moving over to a spring sport that Georgia used to be pretty good at, Ray Kunzer writes: Bill, I hate to sound negative, but why hasn’t Coach Perno been called out for the poor performance of the Diamond Dawgs? They have lost 2 of 3 to Georgia Southern, 2 of 3 to Belmont, single games to Georgia State and Kennesaw State. I do not think that any of these teams would be considered powerhouse baseball teams. I find that unacceptable, but I have not heard anyone in the media or otherwise calling Perno on the carpet for this terrible start of the season. This program has been floundering ever since they reached the finals of the College World Series several years ago, and that should not be happening at the flagship university of the state of Georgia. At this rate, we stand to be a bottom feeder in the SEC, which could mean that we would not even qualify for the SEC tournament. I realize that the season has just started, but it is certainly not shaping up to be a very promising one. All I have heard Perno say is,”we haven’t gotten any breaks.” Seems to me that against the teams we have played so far, breaks should not have been needed to beat them, decent showings by our talent should have prevailed. But maybe we do not have very good talent, and if not, why not? I would like to hear your thoughts on this troubling situation.
The Diamond Dogs are off to a rough start, and Perno is correct that his team has been pretty unlucky in losing a bunch of one-run games. But you’re right in noting that the level of opposition so far hasn’t been close to what Georgia will face in SEC play, so UGA fans have a right to be alarmed. Whatever cushion Perno had from Georgia’s run of highly successful seasons early in his tenure surely is gone now and I have a feeling that unless we see a major turnaround, there might be a new head coach next season. In the meantime, I hope Georgia’s struggles won’t deter fans from showing up at Foley Field. The Dogs pounded UAB 14-2 Friday night to open their longest homestand of the year, a stretch of nine games that also will see them facing Western Carolina, Liberty and Appalachian State before beginning SEC play at Texas A&M. Saturday’s game will be at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Turn out to support them, if you can.
And with the upcoming Jason Aldean show — the first concert ever at Sanford Stadium — in mind, Jim P. writes: Bill, Will UGA be covering the hedges with a light tarp or something else to protect them from people during concerts? I hope.
I put your question to UGA sports information chief Claude Felton, who responds: “There will not be a tarp covering the hedges; however, there will be security officers along the hedges during the concert.” Hope that puts your mind at rest, Jim.
One more thing: Last week my daughter Olivia wrote here about participating in UGA Miracle’s dance marathon to benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Not only did she have a great time (and manage to meet the challenge to stay on her feet all 24 hours), but the marathon raised a record $346,289.13 for the kids. Well done!
Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics? Or maybe a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? If so, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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