The answer to the above question depends on definition. If by “good” we mean, “Way better than Kevin Ramsey,” the answer is yes. If by “good” we mean “one of the finest defensive coordinators in the nation,” the answer is no.
Willie Martinez suffers most by immediate comparison to his predecessor. In 52 games under Brian VanGorder, Georgia yielded 30-plus points only in the 2003 SEC championship game against an LSU team that would win the BCS title. In 52 games under Martinez, Georgia has yielded 30-plus points 11 times.
The average score of a Georgia loss in four seasons under VanGorder was 21-12. Not once in any of the 10 losses with BVG as DC did the Bulldogs score 20 points themselves, meaning those defeats were more related to offensive failings. Now look:
The average score of a Georgia loss in four seasons under Martinez has been 32-23. Five times in those 12 losses the Bulldogs have scored 30-plus points, which means the offense has been holding up its end.
The offense has waxed and waned under Mark Richt. (Last season the Bulldogs ranked 22nd nationally in total offense, their best showing since finishing 21st in 2001.) The defense has slipped. In four seasons under VanGorder, Georgia ranked among the nation’s top 10 in total defense twice and scoring defense three times. In four seasons under Martinez, the Bulldogs have ranked among the nation’s top 10 in those categories once apiece.
Over time, the yardage figures are almost congruent. Opponents averaged 305 yards per game against BVG’s D; they’ve averaged 302 against WM’s. What has changed is more problematic:
Georgia now has to score big to win, and that’s a tough way to travel. Forty-two points weren’t enough to beat Georgia Tech last season, and 41 wouldn’t have been enough to beat Alabama or 49 sufficient to unhorse Florida. And before we dismiss 2008 as a function of injuries and penalties and suchlike, let’s note the Bullogs lost 31-30 to Auburn and 38-35 to West Virginia in 2005 and 51-33 to Tennessee in 2006.
In two of the biggest victories of the post-VanGorder era, Georgia beat Florida 42-30 in 2007 and LSU 52-38 last season. The Bulldogs used to win because their defense served as a safety net. They now work without that net.
Martinez’s defenders — not to be confused with the men who play his defense — say his units make key stops (against Kentucky and Auburn last season, for example) and that he plays the defense Richt wants played. But it’s tough to imagine any head coach prefers a defense that collapses periodically, and it’s difficult to argue that, given Georgia’s gaudy rankings every single Signing Day, this coordinator is working without talent.
The aforementioned Ramsey lasted one season (1999) as Jim Donnan’s defensive coordinator. His undoing was a 38-21 loss to an Auburn team that entered Sanford Stadium 4-5 but led 31-0 at the half. (Quarterback Ben Leard passed for 416 yards that bizarre night.) Bulldog fans take pride in both their stadium and their history of stalwart defense, and they filed out early on Nov. 13, 1999 believing that hadn’t ever seen and wouldn’t again see such a thing.
On Sept. 27, 2008, Alabama scored on five consecutive possessions against the nation’s No. 3 team. The halftime score in Athens was 31-0.