It was kind of a crazy week, what with an ice storm and an earth quake, but that hasn’t managed to stop the flow of Junkyard Mail. Let’s dip into some of it. …
Geoff from Marietta writes: Hi Bill, With the recent promotion of [Bryan] McClendon to the position of recruiting coordinator after spending a year without officially awarding the title to anyone, it has me contemplating the departure and phoenix-like re-emergence of our last one, Mr. Rodney Garner. Obviously, no one involved with Georgia football would go on record with their true thoughts about Mr. Garner but I was just wondering if you’ve been able to take the temperature of the program, so to speak. Over the past few years, we’d read story after story of recruits stating that they didn’t have much interest in Georgia because they hadn’t been contacted. At the time, it was portrayed as Georgia just being more selective and rigorous in their process before they got involved with a high school player. Turns out, Garner goes to Auburn, gets a raise, and suddenly has this new found enthusiasm for life and is all over these same recruits (ie. Lawson, Adams, Russell, Williams, etc.) that he couldn’t be bothered to give the time of day to before! This also segues well into a bigger issue, IMO, which is Coach Richt’s seeming inability to hold his staff to high levels of excellence on a consistent basis. From an otherwise very solid head coach, this appears to be his only recurring and glaring deficiency. Whether it be Martinez, Grantham, Garner or whomever, CMR’s loyalty to his staff members, while making him a good person, is often a weakness as the big boss. What are your thoughts and do you see this the same way?
Well, first of all, I think loyalty on the part of a boss toward his staff is a good thing. But you’re right that Mark Richt’s loyalty to his staff probably did contribute to him keeping Willie Martinez as defensive coordinator at least a season or two longer than he should have. Todd Grantham? I doubt that would have been the case; had he stayed at UGA and had the defense not showed remarkable improvement this coming season, I don’t think Grantham’s contract would have been renewed. As for Rodney Garner, who was already at Georgia when Richt arrived, I do tend to think his effectiveness declined the longer he stayed at UGA. But while recruiting perhaps lost a step in his last couple of seasons, at Georgia it is very much a by-committee pursuit, with the various assistant coaches responsible for certain territories or positions. Garner does probably share some of the blame, though, for the school getting a late start on too many in-state recruits. As for his other job, while Garner’s defensive line was a bit of an underperformer in his last season in Athens, part of that probably was attributable to Grantham’s tendency to not rotate players enough on defense. Keep in mind, Georgia made it to the SEC championship both of Garner’s last two seasons in Athens, so it’s not like there was an obvious need for a change. However, seeing how the move back to his alma mater re-energized Garner both as a recruiter and a coach, I think it’s fair to conclude he stayed too long at UGA for both his own good and the Georgia program’s.
Matt McGahee writes: Bill, I have often read your column and enjoyed your insights, even if I have not always agreed with them. I believe the naming of two special teams coordinators is excellent. It gives that coach a sense of pride and accountability that has been absent before. Those coaches will own those responsibilities and will not allow the lack of good play in those situations to tarnish their good names. John Lilly has been fantastic and will not allow his reputation to be tarnished. In turn, Mike Ekeler has quite a reputation already and is the new guy, so I highly doubt he will allow it to continue to be as bad as it was last year. What Coach Richt has done is take a page right from “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by appointing these guys with a title, they will feel more important and will want to be successful in their special team endeavours. If they don’t, now everyone has someone to blame. I also think the signing of Isaiah McKenzie for the return game will be HUGE, and so will be the return of Malcolm Mitchell. At signing day Richt said that Bulldog Nation will be very happy with what happens with special teams this year. I honestly believe our coach and think great things are ahead for the Georgia Bulldogs this year.
You’ve summed up pretty well the optimistic view, Matt. I certainly hope you’re right about the two coaches taking ownership of the special teams situation. A bit of competition between the two special teams (offensive and defensive) likely wouldn’t hurt, either.
Ed Rocker writes: When do you think Sanford Stadium will be expanded? I really think this needs to be addressed very soon. Look at what LSU and Texas A&M are doing.
I don’t think UGA needs to be in any stadium capacity race, Ed, despite Texas A&M expanding Kyle Field’s capacity to 102,000 and LSU planning an expansion of Tiger Stadium to 100,000. While those schools apparently think they can fill those seats, generally speaking college football attendance is on the downswing, even in the SEC, thanks to high ticket prices, parking hassles and the appeal of flat-screen high definition television sets at home. Sanford is still mostly sold out, but just barely for some games, and overall UGA registered a minor attendance decrease in 2012 with an average of 92,723. And that was in a successful season in which the Dogs won their second consecutive SEC East title. There are already more than enough seats for the cupcake games. The most feasible expansion plan for Sanford is adding seats on the east end to take the capacity to 102,000 to 104,000, but unless the possible addition of a ninth conference game sometime in the next couple of seasons gooses fan interest, I wouldn’t think that’s likely to happen any time soon.
Sam Mattson writes: Bill, what are your thoughts on the proposed NCAA football legislation that would prevent an offensive team from snapping the ball until after 10 seconds of the 40-second clock had elapsed, allowing defenses to substitute against hurry-up offenses? I know it’s being presented as a “safety” issue, but this is mostly to placate Nick Saban, an outspoken critic of the hurry-up game, isn’t it?
That’s probably a fair assessment, Sam. While I think the other major NCAA rules change proposal — fixing the “targeting” rule so that if targeting is overruled, the 15-yard penalty doesn’t apply — is a much-needed tweak to an ill-conceived rules change from last year, the move to slow down hurry-up offenses strikes me as completely unnecessary. I’ve seen no reports of hard evidence that defenses having to go with who they already have on the field against a no-huddle, hurry-up attack has resulted in any more injuries. And the hurry-up certainly adds to the college game’s fan appeal. In terms of Georgia, I think it’s pretty much been a wash. While the Dogs’ defense has been burned from time to time by a hurry-up — particularly when Todd Grantham had trouble getting his defensive calls in on a timely basis — on the other side of the ball Mike Bobo has had some success with his occasional use of the hurry-up. Basically, I don’t think it’s a change that needs to be made and I’ll frankly be surprised if it passes.
Griffin Boone writes: If UGA finishes 17-11 (11-5 SEC) will we have a chance to make NCAA tournament if we win a couple SEC tournament games?
I don’t think so, Griffin. Most college basketball experts agree Georgia doesn’t have a chance of making the NCAA tournament unless they win the SEC tourney and get an automatic bid. The problem is UGA has a very weak RPI (currently 105) thanks to a mediocre nonconference schedule (against which the Dogs weren’t that impressive), and not a lot of really big wins. I think the Dogs’ best hope, if they finish strong, is an NIT bid. I do think, however, that the Dogs’ resilient play this season — which sees them going for four wins in a row Saturday as they face Ole Miss for third place in the conference behind Florida and Kentucky — likely has saved Mark Fox’s job for another year, even if the Dogs go .500 the rest of the way. Beyond that, Fox probably does need to make the NCAA tournament next season if he wants to stick around in Athens. And, with his continuing problems signing a major recruit, that could be difficult.
Got something you want to discuss concerning the Dawgs? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at email@example.com.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg