Georgia coach Mark Richt has spent a lot of time this spring talking about discipline and I’ve spent a lot of time writing about it. I’ve filed a dozen stories on the subject already in 2012, including THIS ONE about drug-testing and UGA’s philosophies on crime and punishment.
So it should come as no surprise to learn that discipline dominated the discussion Tuesday night in Augusta when Richt and other UGA coaches and administrators spoke at the first stop on the annual “UGA Days” tour across the Southeast. Addressing of crowd of more than 200 supporters, the first question/comment received was from a man complimenting him on the handling of disciplinary matters, even though it has resulted in the dismissal and/or suspensions or eventual suspensions of at least seven football players.
Richt thanked the man, then launched into a soliloquy about his and UGA’s doctrine on disciplining students. Here what he said, as recounted in Seth Emerson’s “Bulldogs Blog” on The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer website.
“Did anybody here go through college, did anybody maybe do something stupid, and not have the whole world know? I know I did. . . . When a mistake is made, there needs to be a consequence; there needs to be a discipline; there needs to be a learning experience from it. I’m not gonna change the way I discipline. Some people may think it’s soft. A lot of people think you might be losing control of your program because you have a lot of suspensions for the season. But the reality is that’s how you keep control of your team, by disciplining your team.
“If you notice, we’re not gonna have any partiality as to whether a guy is a walk-on or a starter. I don’t like disciplining a starter. I don’t like disciplining a walk-on. But when they get out of line you want the punishment to stick. And the punishment that sticks the most is playing time. That’s what I’ve learned over the years. And then you’ve gotta educate them. You’ve gotta have them understand why what they did is wrong, and how it hurts them.”
Richt went on to recount his experiences with past players who ultimately benefited from his disciplinary style.
“Just this weekend I ran into Ray Gant and Danell Ellerbe. Now Daniel Ellerbe was this close from being gone. He had a DUI right before he did whatever he did, and he was that close to being gone. But then you know you have a conversation with that kid. You say, ‘one more thing and you are gone,’ and, ‘what you did is not gonna define your career. What you do from this point is gonna define your career.’ And so I said, ‘If you take care of business you have a chance to still have a great career, and still play in the NFL.’ And sure enough, this guy he got serious about school, he got his degree before he let, he got drafted to the NFL, albeit a little bit later than he would have been if he didn’t have an issue. Still he’s a starting linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens and he’s doing awesome.
“There’s so many guys like that. Anybody remember Verron Haynes? What do you remember Verron for? Pass-44 for touchdown against Tennessee? Well if you don’t remember, he got himself in trouble, too. He made a mistake. He got suspended for the first game of the season along with a couple of other guys. But those guys turned it around and they recovered. They learned from it. The sad part of it is it’s so public.”
Richt went on to say he didn’t think we’d ever see a time when there would be a uniform policy regarding drug-testing or any other forms of discipline conference-wide or nationwide. But he did point out that Georgia has been more stringent from a disciplinary standpoint since his arrival in Athens in December of 2000.
There is some tangible evidence to back up Richt’s claim from a drug-testing standpoint. In the last year Jim Donnan was head football coach (2000), UGA spent just $3,385 on drug-testing for the entire fiscal year, according to records obtained by The AJC. That number jumped to $15,480.40 in Richt’s first year and was $39,473.50 for Fiscal Year 2011.
In that time UGA also established a written code of conduct just for student-athletes. In addition to stringent policies on drugs and alcohol, it also has hard and fast bylaws regarding academics, class attendance, tutoring and mentoring appointments.
“It’s not easy to be a student-athlete,” Richt said after the G-Day Game this past Saturday. “There is so much demand we put on them physically, in the weight room, speed and agility stuff, learning the system, playing the game, all of the practices. Then you’ve got academic mentors, you have tutoring, you have class, you’ve got your classwork you’ve got to get done. There’s just not that many hours in the day, so they don’t have much of a break. They’re grinding; they’re working hard. It’s not easy. The more you do it, the easier it gets. the better you do it the easier it gets.”
Richt’s remarks in Augusta are certainly the most candid and extensive we’ve heard him on the subject of discipline. He has tended be a little tight-lipped around reporters this spring as several of the disciplinary matters before him remain fluid situations. The court date for cornerback Branden Smith, arrested in Henry County, Ala., on marijuana possession charges last month, has been postponed until May 21. And UGA has never confirmed multiple-game suspensions for All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree due to alleged flunked drug tests.
Whatever the case, Richt and Athletic Director Greg McGarity have found their disciplinary policies front and center before the public. It will probably be again Wednesday night as the UGA Days tour makes its next stop in Rome.
So what do you think about them and how do you think Georgia is doing?
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