Among the many other things he is, Mark Richt appears to have become the leading supplier of starting SEC quarterbacks.
Three of this year’s SEC starting quarterbacks originally signed with Georgia. Which says good things about Richt’s nose for talent.
But two of them are now leading the offense at other schools as a result of Richt’s strict disciplinary policies: LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Auburn’s Nick Marshall.
I don’t know whether it’s happened before where a college team has to face two Top 10 conference rivals in the same season, both of whom have starting quarterbacks that used to be on the first team, but I imagine it’s pretty rare.
For one thing, not many coaches would kick a player good enough to be an SEC starter off their team, no matter what they did, and even fewer would allow the departed player to sign with another team in the same conference.
In an era when many coaches put restrictions on a player leaving their program, Richt is the exception. And his generosity in not only helping place dismissed players with junior college programs where they can get back on track, but also allowing them to sign with other SEC schools is a remarkable testament to what a good man he is — a point of pride for UGA fans, although whether it’s the best move from a football coaching standpoint is open to debate.
Still, it’s produced some pretty unusual storylines this season. First, there was Mettenberger, who grew up in the Athens area and whose mom even works in the UGA football office, returning to play his former teammates Between the Hedges. That had to have played mind games with him, though Mett had a terrific day against the Dogs, even in a losing effort.
For Marshall, it won’t quite be as dramatic a reunion, since a quirk in SEC scheduling has Georgia making the trip to Auburn two years in a row. But even for a player whose coaches this week have (perhaps in a bit of psychological bolstering) been touting how he always remains on an emotional even keel, going up against the school where you originally signed and where you played your freshman year, and where you still have friends, has got to be a little unsettling.
But just as Mettenberger dismissed (not too convincingly) the emotional aspects of going up against his old team, so Marshall told AL.com after last week’s Auburn win over Tennessee that playing Georgia “doesn’t mean too much. It’s just another opponent that’s in our way, blocking to what we’re trying to capitalize on.”
On the other side, Georgia defensive end Ray Drew told ESPN.com: “It’s a little weird, but I knew whenever he was here that he was a player. And now someone that could have been helping, you’re having to try to stop him.”
While getting kicked out of UGA over a dorm theft probably marks a low point in Marshall’s life, things have turned out well for him. In his first year at Auburn he’s not only the starting QB, but his team has staged one of the most remarkable turnabouts in recent college football history, going from being one of last season’s conference doormats to a once-defeated Top 10 juggernaut. And Marshall is a big reason why.
You might think Richt would wince at the success elsewhere of players he turned loose, but the Georgia head coach said earlier this season: “I’m happy for them that they landed in a good place and are getting an opportunity to do what they hoped and dreamed about doing coming out of high school. I’m big on guys realizing their dreams. That’s part of the reason why I coach. When you hit a major roadblock like they did, you like to hear stories of guys turning it around and doing really good things.”
In his Monday teleconference, Richt struck a similar tone. “I’ve said on plenty of occasions, if a guy has a situation where he doesn’t finish at Georgia, a guy that signed with us, my goal for him is to find a new home and have success there, so I’m happy for Nick.”
Marshall, who chose to play defense at Georgia in hopes that he also could walk on at some point with the basketball team, no doubt would have been a valuable part of this year’s Bulldog team, which could have used his athleticism in the secondary, even if Mike Bobo hadn’t borrowed him for the offense.
“I think he’d be an all-conference-type guy,” Richt said Monday. “He’d be a guy with a very bright future at that position. But he’s a dynamic guy who has a lot of skills and he’s using a lot of them as a quarterback right now.”
The success of Mettenberger and Marshall after being dismissed at Georgia is the sort of feel-good story that sports media love. As former UGA defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner, now at Auburn, told ESPN: “Nick and Zach are both examples that one mistake as a kid doesn’t define who you are. They’re both good kids that just made bad decisions.”
Earlier this season, Mettenberger and Marshall’s teams met on the football field and Auburn suffered its only loss so far. And, of course, Mettenberger lost when he returned to Athens.
Some might say that karmically Richt’s approach to letting ex-players go where they want should pay off for Georgia (hey, we’ve already got a win over LSU).
But, from a more pragmatic standpoint, should his policy work for or against UGA in future recruiting? I put that question to Michael Carvell, who covers recruiting for the AJC.
“In my opinion, I think this 100 percent works in favor of UGA,” Carvell said, “because it has shown, especially with the high-profile quarterbacks this year, that if things don’t work out for a player in Athens, Mark Richt is pretty much willing to let that player seek happiness wherever he feels like he may find it, even if it’s at an archrival. It shows that Richt puts the welfare of a recruit above him and the program, even if it comes back to bite.”
I hope Michael is right. I also hope that UGA does all it can to make sure the story of Richt’s generosity is one of Verne and Gary’s talking points on this week’s CBS national telecast.
So, what do you think? Do you support the fact that Richt doesn’t hesitate to dismiss talented players from the program if they get too out of line? And the way he then allows them to sign wherever they want? Or do you have a problem with that approach?
Got something you want to discuss concerning the Dawgs? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg