Note: There will be a “Ten at 10″ this week but it has been moved to Wednesday . . .
ATHENS — After having one of their better years in a while in regard to off-field problems for players, trouble is starting to stack up a little for Georgia.
Branden Smith’s arrest for marijuana possession in South Alabama Sunday night represented the second arrest of UGA football player this year — cornerback Sanders Commings was arrested for a domestic violence incident in January — and third if one counts tight end Orson Charles’ arrest for DUI last week (Charles declared for the NFL draft and not an official member of the team).
And that’s just players who have run into trouble from the law. Head coach Mark Richt dismissed three players from the team in January for stealing from a teammate.
But Richt doesn’t believe there is a lack of discipline in the program and contends that the Bulldogs are stricter than most programs when it comes to keeping players in line.
“When guys do make mistakes, two things are very important: How we handle it and how he handles it,” Richt said. “Are we going to discipline our players the way they ought to be disciplined according to what they’ve done? I think we do that. I think we do that more strictly than most people do. If you look at other people’s policies, ours is much tougher than just about anybody other’s pocliy I’ve seen. So because some of our guys end up with a game suspension or whatever it may be, a kid at another school may do the very same thing and their policy doesn’t say that it has to be that way. I mean, I don’t care what they do. All I’m saying is I think it’s important how you handle it.”
Unlike many programs, UGA’s punishments are written down in black and white in the Student-Athlete Handbook. For instance, in the case of Smith’s arrest for marijuana possession, that falls under UGA’s codes for “alcohol and drug-related misconduct.” That means an automatic suspension from 10 percent of competition dates (in this case one game), future drug-testing, education and counseling and additional discipline as determined by what’s called the “Comprehensive Action Plan Committee.”
Said Richt: “Our goal when our guys make mistakes is to find out the truth about it and then discipline it properly. The second thing that is important is how they respond to it. If they learn from their mistakes and become better people because of it, then that’s a positive thing in that guy’s life. If he’s not truthful about it and acts like he didn’t do anything wrong and his behavior isn’t going to change in any way shape or form, then he’s probably not going to be at Georgia very long. That’s just kind of the way things go. To think every single guy is not ever going to make a mistake and be perfect, I don’t think is realistic. It’s certainly what we search for. Is it frustrating? Yes, it is.”
Adding to Richt’s frustration was the timing of the Smith’s incident. Just last week, Athletic Director Greg McGarity assembled every UGA student-athlete at the Georgia Center for Continuing Educaton to talk about the importance of good behavior during the upcoming spring break (which began this week). The football team followed that up with a separate meeting of their own. So it’s not like the issue wasn’t addressed.
“Oh yeah, we always do,” Richt said. “We ought to video those [meetings] just to make sure everybody knows we do that.”
Ultimately, it comes down to the character of the players the coaches recruit to campus. I asked McGarity how much he held coaches responsible for their players’ behavior.
“Accountability is a foregone conclusion,” McGarity said. “You hold coaches accountable in every sport for their entire program. That’s just part of the deal, just like I’m accountable for every employee. I’m accountable for 250 full-time staff members. So we’re all accountable to someone and that language is currently in [Richt's] contract right now.”
– Chip Towers, The UGA Blog