It’s been a busy week in Athens, starting out with the whirlwind departure of Todd Grantham and rapid arrival of his replacement, Jeremy Pruitt. Then there was the loss of the rest of the defensive staff (after a bit of last-minute wavering on the part of defensive line coach Chris Wilson), resulting in some grad assistants having to hit the road as recruiters along with Pruitt, and the revelation that Josh Harvey-Clemons will miss the first three games of next season.
Let’s see what readers have to say about all that in the Junkyard Mail. …
Jim P. writes: Bill, It’s only January and we already have Justin Scott-Wesley and Josh Harvey-Clemons suspended for games in 2014 (please correct me if I’ve missed others). Who knows if the kid driving with the suspended license (Shaq Wiggins) will miss any games? It might be time for Hutson Mason and other soon-to-be seniors to call a players meeting. If I were Hutson, I would tell the entire team “I waited 4 years to have one year’s opportunity to start for this team. And none of you … are going to [mess] this season up because you can’t control yourself off the field.” The rest of the seniors need to get it embedded in all players heads that they have a chance to be a special team. And they need to quit any selfish acts that could hurt this team. And if they don’t, they won’t only be disciplined by the coaching staff, but will face the wrath of their teammates.
Yes, it appears even JH-C’s grandaddy had been misled about the nature of the suspension since he was under the impression it was for academics, not drug use, as has been reported. The kid is talented but obviously has a problem understanding the rules at UGA. It’s a shame, but one more mistake on his part and he’ll probably be eligible for future stardom at Auburn. And I hope you’re right, Jim, that the senior leaders on the team make it clear to the younger players that they’re hurting the team when they play the fool. Another issue this raises: As long as it seems to be a fact of life that its stricter disciplinary policies will ensure UGA begins each season with a starter or starters suspended, Greg McGarity needs to make sure that the Dogs don’t open up any more with top-level opposition like Clemson. Games like that, if they’re played, should be in one of the post-South Carolina slots, like the one occupied this coming season by Troy.
Lamar Westbrook writes: Bill, love your stories on Georgia! It looks like a great hire at the defensive coordinator position, but what about [Mike] Bobo? If I was him, I would be upset that Georgia hired a DC out of the blue and gave him about $850,000 a year. … I heard Bobo only makes about $450,000 a year yet his offense has produced at a high level, yet his pay is less than the defensive coordinators that don’t do their jobs half as good as Bobo!! The last 3 years, or even this past year, Georgia would not have won 4 games without the offense carrying the defense, yet his salary is way less than the overpaid DC! … Last time I checked his offense scored at least 32 points a game yet the defense gave up 30 a game and that coach made twice the money! Why is Bobo getting shafted?? Thanks buddy. and God bless!!
Thanks, Lamar. Actually, Bobo got a $240,000-a-year raise last year as part of a three-year contract that upped his salary to $575,000 per year, but you’re right about him being due for another increase. It was laughable hearing Todd Grantham crow at his Louisville press conference about his defense being the “backbone” of UGA’s division-winning teams when it has indeed been Bobo’s offense that’s carried Grantham’s underperforming defenses. I liked what ESPN’s Mark Schlabach tweeted in response to that: “Somebody needs to tell Todd Grantham that Mike Bobo’s back still hurts from the last three years.” There’s been no official word on UGA revisiting Bobo’s deal, but it would certainly be a smart move on the part of McGarity and Mark Richt.
Also on the subject of Grantham’s departure, Mike Darnell writes: Bill, It pleases me that [Todd Grantham] is gone. However, what does it say that he would accept a lateral move to a lesser program? Knowing that he would have to produce this next year, do you think he felt that this group of players wouldn’t be able to keep his job for him?
And John Thomas Rawl writes: Bill, What’s going on with Georgia defensive coaching changes? McGarity claims he doesn’t get involved in assistant coaching changes, and Richt indicated toward the end of the season he foresaw no coaching changes and preached continuity. Yet [Scott] Lakatos resigns due to “personal reasons” and now [Grantham is gone]. This move could be considered lateral at best. … Do you think he left due to external fan-based pressures, and he knew his ship was sinking? Or did CMR and McGarity have more to do with it?
I think it was a combination of factors. Yes, Louisville offered more money and a five-year deal, plus let Grantham hire his brother Tony as an assistant coach (which nepotism rules at UGA wouldn’t allow). So while it was a lateral move in terms of position, it’s one with improved terms. But I believe the major reason Grantham jumped at the Louisville offer was he knew he was on the hot seat at UGA with this coming season being the last in his three-year deal, and he knew that if the defense didn’t improve considerably he probably wouldn’t be retained. All in all, I think it was a win-win situation: better for Grantham and it made it possible for Georgia to get what appears to be a definite upgrade in Jeremy Pruitt.
Johnny Fox writes: Bill, I know most of the attention so far this postseason has been on the defensive changes, but I’m concerned that amid all the turmoil there Mark Richt won’t get around to doing anything about the ongoing disaster that is UGA special teams. With the new defensive coordinator getting a clean slate staffwise, do you see any chance of them hiring a special teams coordinator and finally getting serious about the third major aspect of the game?
All I can say, Johnny, is I share your concerns and Richt is again talking the talk, but it remains to be seen if that produces any meaningful change. Richt indicated this week that change is coming. “Special teams, I’ve got some things in mind,” he said. “I really can’t say exactly what I’ve got in mind but I do have some things in mind for that I think is going to be helpful.” Even before the departure of Chris Wilson and Kirk Olivadotti, when it appeared only Scott Lakatos needed to be replaced, Richt said his “guess” was that whoever would be hired “will have a strong special teams background as well.” Now that Pruitt has a chance to hire an entire staff, I’d say the odds of one of them having special teams experience is even greater. And that may result in one of the defensive coaches being named special teams coordinator in addition to coaching the line or linebackers or whatever. But UGA probably won’t look at having a full-time special teams coach until the NCAA ups the limit on full-time assistant coaches from nine to 10. That’s an idea the American Football Coaches Association is thinking about pushing, and Richt has told the Macon Telegraph he supports that move and thinks it eventually will pass. “It wouldn’t be for next season, but maybe as soon as after next season,” Richt said. “I know I’m behind it, I’m for it. Most every coach I’ve talked to is for it. If that happens, that would probably free up a lot of people to say, This is all this guy does, is special teams now. But in the meantime, we’re gonna have something that I think is gonna be very exciting for us in that area.” Let’s hope he comes through on that promise.
DawgDaddy writes: Bill, were you at all surprised by the cheap shots Todd Grantham started taking at Georgia once he departed for Louisville? I knew he was a fiery guy, but I thought he had more class than that.
I did think it was a bit tacky for Grantham to be tweeting pictures of the Louisville indoor practice facility and strength staff. Especially since neither was really the reason his defenses underperformed at Georgia. They suffered from his overly complicated schemes, his inability to teach them to his players, and his lateness in getting signals in during games. Even tackier were Grantham’s comments at his introductory press conference, where he tried to claim credit for Georgia’s success while seemingly dissing Bobo by saying he was attracted to Louisville by “a very dynamic play-caller, a very dynamic offensive person” in Bobby Petrino. And his most direct shot at UGA was when he said, “To win a championship, it takes a lot of different elements. And the first thing it takes is to have an athletic director that has a vision for the resources needed moving forward.” Am I surprised by Grantham’s lack of class? No. This, after all, was the coach who made a throat-slashing gesture at an opposing team’s kicker and got into a shouting match with another team’s coach at midfield. Maturity and self-control never appeared to be Grantham hallmarks. By the way, neither were football fundamentals. I liked the contrast in what his replacement, Pruitt, said this week: “A lot of people try to make football harder than what it is. It’s the details. It’s blocking. It’s tackling. It’s the fundamentals. It’s getting off blocks. To create turnovers, you have to practice creating turnovers. For interceptions, catch the ball. If the ball’s on the ground you have to secure it.” I also thought it was instructive that the Georgia defense broke out in applause both when Pruitt entered the room for his first meeting with them and when he left — something Richt said he’d never seen in his 30-plus years of coaching. In other words, they didn’t seem too choked up by Grantham’s departure.
Channing Jacobs writes: Bill, I like what I’ve heard about Jeremy Pruitt, but I wonder whether having to start over with a completely new defensive staff is likely to have any downside for the Dawgs.
It’s possible that Georgia might lose a defensive recruit or two because of the wholesale changes, but one of Pruitt’s strengths is as a recruiter and he’s hit the ground running this week in that regard, so that might mitigate the damage. I’m also sorry to see defensive line coach Chris Wilson depart Athens after just one season. His line was one of the strengths of Georgia’s defense this past season and showed definite improvement from the days under Rodney Garner. It will be interesting to see who his replacement is.
A couple of closing notes …
In the wake of recent coaching changes, Mark Schlabach revised his 2014 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25, and Georgia moved up to No. 8 from its previous spot at 11, thanks to what Schlabach termed “a major coup” in the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt.
And a tip of the Bulldog cap to Danna Durante’s ninth-ranked Gym Dogs, who turned in a season-high score in their home opener at Stegeman Coliseum Friday, beating second-ranked LSU Friday by a score of 197.175 to 196.875. LSU, of course, is where former UGA gymnastics coach Jay Clark landed as associate head coach under D-D Breaux. My brother Jon reports that, despite being on the other side now, Clark was well received by the Georgia crowd.
The Gym Dogs return to action with a King Day match at 2 p.m. Monday against Iowa. Tickets are available for purchase on georgiadogs.com or by calling the UGA Ticket Office at 1-877-541-1231.
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