Let’s get straight to some Junkyard Mail. …
Terry D. writes: Bill, I couldn’t help but notice Scott Lakatos, who oversaw our miserable secondary, announced his departure from the UGA staff the very same day Greg McGarity was having his annual sit-down/evaluation with Mark Richt. I know Richt previously had said he didn’t anticipate any staff changes — continuity rules! — but the timing here is awfully curious. What do you think, coincidence, or did Greg put pressure on the head coach to make a change?
Coincidence, I think. Yes, the secondary was the most disappointing area of this year’s team and it’s true that Georgia’s defensive backs showed little progress over the course of 13 games, at least a portion of which could be laid pretty fairly at Lakatos’ feet. But McGarity made it clear this week in his interview with the AJC’s Chip Towers that he doesn’t get into the hiring and firing of assistant coaches, so I think it’s highly unlikely the athletic director played any role in Lakatos’ departure. Plus, there had been rumors for quite a while about some sort of issue that the secondary coach was dealing with, which would jibe with his announcement he was resigning for “personal” reasons. In an interview this week, one of Georgia’s defensive back recruits, Shattle Fenteng, told the AJC’s Michael Carvell that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said Lakatos had “some family issues he needed to take care of.” Whatever the reason, it does give Richt a chance to put someone with a fresh point of view in charge of the struggling unit. Which leads to our next letter …
Bob writes: What do you think about replacing Lakatos? How about a guy like Ron Zook in a dual role as DB and special teams coach? … Though Zook’s tenure as a head coach might not be stellar, I think a guy of his experience and profile could be a big plus.
Secondary coach would be quite a comedown for a former head coach and defensive coordinator, but, last I heard, Zook was working for a bank in Florida, so I guess he might consider such a move if he wanted to get back into college football that badly. But I think he’d be a longshot. The names that almost immediately started circulating include former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who is no longer the hot commodity he once was when he was considered a potential candidate for the defensive coordinator’s job ultimately filled by Grantham, and Duane Akina, who coached defensive backs for Texas and might be a more likely consideration. But considering Grantham’s pro ball background, some sort of NFL defensive assistant might be a more likely prospect. That’s where Grantham found inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti. Along those lines, Shattle Fenteng told Michael Carvell that “Coach Grantham said he is going to try to hire someone within the next week. He’s waiting for some NFL guys to call him back. He said he wants to get a good coach so he can develop me to go to the NFL.” Another possibility to consider is that Richt might decide to go for a defensive backs coach who also has special teams coaching experience, allowing him to address another nagging and very serious problem with his team. Or he might use this staff opening to reshuffle some responsibilities among current assistants to focus more on special teams. I’ve got my fingers crossed!
Speaking of special teams play, Pete Talmadge writes: Remember, Richt’s background was FSU under Bowden, who, for years, refused to give a scholly to a kicker. Only after “wide left, wide right” did he do so. How many guys did we send back to field punts? I lost track, but [Richt] decided on [Reggie] Davis for the Gator Bowl, a young, fast but untested “hands” guy who wasn’t going anywhere in the mud in Jacksonville. Predictably, he fumbled once, but then they sent him back another time as well? Fortunately, he ran away from the punt the second time, which is about as good as we can do. When you see teams execute some tricky special teams plays, you shake your head and realize that UGA could NEVER do anything like this. We can’t even find a guy that can catch punts. Pitiful.
Pete, I do take a small measure of hope from another comment McGarity made in his AJC interview, when he addressed this season’s breakdowns in defense and special teams play. “Everyone knows where are shortcomings are. It’s pretty obvious to everyone. There’s no sugar-coating that. We do have a lot of deficiencies. Those are the things … that are going to be addressed. As head football coach, it’s [Richt's] job to address those and learn from those and move forward. … But right now our special teams are a deficiency; they need to be a plus. It’s a three-headed monster — offense, defense, special teams. Right now we’re not special. It’s up to Mark to fix it.” Let’s hope that point was made strongly with the head coach this week.
Joe Burger writes: Hey Bill, My question looks ahead to 2014. In addition to the pure playmaking and talent we lose with Aaron Murray, his leadership void is what concerns me most. Murray (arguably) singlehandedly won us several games with his toughness and will (UT, LSU). However, with him departed, who steps in to fill the void (be it coach or player)? With huge question marks about the defensive secondary, the O line play, special teams ineffectiveness, UGA really needs someone to step up and lead this team. Without a true leader for this upcoming season, I feel another season of 5 to 7 losses is what we are headed for (but I sure do hope I’m wrong!) …
Well, my first choice, naturally, would be Hutson Mason. It’s always a strength for a team when the quarterback is a team leader, and while Mason might be new to the starter’s job, he’ll be a five-year senior and he’s shown in the past that he’s not shy about stating his preferences and exhorting his teammates. The only thing that gives me pause with Mason was his hesitancy and trust issues with his line and receivers in the Gator Bowl, but that hopefully won’t carry over into the new season. The Mason who led Georgia to a comeback win over Tech would do a pretty good job of stepping into Murray’s shoes as a leader. Elsewhere, some of the other rising seniors, like center David Andrews on offense and defensive end Ray Drew and linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera on defense, seem likely to step up as team leaders. There’s no doubt Murray’s leadership will be missed, but I feel pretty good about that aspect of the 2014 team.
Roswell Dawg writes: Bill, Many folks in the Bulldawg nation, including me, are fed up with the mediocrity that our program has fallen into. Very few are optimistic about next season since our leader thinks continuity after an 8-5 season is a good thing. It’s hard for us to overlook long-term problems like absolutely no attention to special teams, horrific secondary play, little if any in-game adjustments, lack of attention to recruiting and coaching offensive lineman, and lack of preparation, motivation, and discipline on and off the field. What do you think it’s going to take to turn this around? Many of us think it will take a change at the top, maybe all the way to the AD. Lakatos’ resignation gives some hope that we’ll go after the best DB coach in the country and perhaps also a special teams leader, but we’re not holding our breaths.
I’ll admit some of the nagging problems plaguing Richt’s program concern me, but keep in mind that the 2013 team had to overcome a horrendous rash of injuries to key playmakers. And the team, especially the offense, will be loaded again with superlative talent in 2014. Yes, I think special teams and secondary play need some drastic action, and I’m tired of spotty offensive line play, but I don’t think complaints about the overall level of recruiting and discipline are valid. You have to remember that most of the disciplinary problems that have cropped up for the Bulldogs have been for things that get passed over with a blind eye in many other programs. Calls for changes at the top are not warranted at this point, in my opinion.
Putting a more positive spin on things, Jim P. writes: All of the criticism is legitimate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a precursor to 2014. Let the Dawgs get healthy this offseason and see what happens. I’m sure a lot of coaches and players are staring in the mirror this offseason, with a strong will to improve. I just think we all need to chill out and not let our emotions get the best of us. We’re all feeling down right now. But we’re The Bulldog Nation! We will bounce back up!!
Thanks, Jim. We needed that.
Patrick writes: With Faton Bauta being a large running backup quarterback, do you see UGA bringing him in to run in short yardage situations, similar to a “Wildcat” formation? Also, do you think coach Mark Richt will go back to the backup having a guaranteed drive or 2 per game?
To answer your second question first, no. Aside from the David Greene-D.J. Shockley era, Richt has shown little indication to rotate his quarterbacks, preferring to stick with his starter. As for Bauta coming in for the occasional running play, we did see that briefly in the Gator Bowl and we’ll probably see it again, but it’s not something that Mike Bobo has had a lot of success with in the past. Actually, what might be fun would be to send in Bauta for what looks like a running play and then have him heave it downfield. Reportedly, he has a pretty strong arm and his passing game has improved tremendously, which is why he’s worked his way up the depth chart.
Jerry Phillips writes: Bill, I know you write mostly about football, but I’m wondering what your thoughts are about Mark Fox and the Bulldogs basketball team this season. The nonconference portion of the season was pretty underwhelming and I’m not real optimistic about how this no-star team will do in conference play. How about you?
I don’t get to attend many Georgia basketball games because of my work schedule, but my wife and I did make it to a couple of games at the Steg in December — both enjoyable wins over negligible opposition, one a last-second squeaker over Western Carolina. I didn’t leave overly impressed with Georgia’s talent level — or very optimistic about their prospects in the SEC this season and Fox’s chances of holding on to his job. Which is a shame, because I think that, in addition to being a nice guy, he’s a fine game coach and does well by his players. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to recruit much superior talent to Athens, and that’s a big problem. Of course, you never know how things will turn out. The roundball Dogs opened their conference schedule this week at Missouri, which had the nation’s longest home winning streak. I didn’t get to see the game, but my son watched online and called me with three seconds left to tell me that Georgia was about to knock off Mizzou, and that Fox was really emotional. No wonder; he’d just buried his basketball coach dad and his team had somehow won a shocker no one expected them to take. Whether the win over the Tigers turns out to be an outlier this season or shows what this team really is capable of remains to be seen. Offensively, the Dogs haven’t been that bad, though they lack a sparkplug like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Defensively they’ve been spotty. And the foul shooting has been pretty awful; that’s why the Missouri game went into overtime. Maybe the win over Mizzou will give them the confidence to step it up in league play. I think at best, though, Georgia looks to be a midlevel team this season. Whether that would be enough to save Fox’s job, I don’t know.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg