ATHENS – Isaiah Crowell getting arrested and kicked off the team may have been a blessing in disguise for the Georgia Bulldogs.
So thinks former Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley. I was interviewing Coach Dooley on Monday for another project I’m doing for the AJC when the subject of Crowell came up. Crowell, a rising sophomore and former 5-star recruit who was the Bulldogs’ leading rusher last season, was dismissed by head coach Mark Richt following Crowell’s arrest on felony weapons charges. Crowell has since transferred to Alabama State, an FCS program in Montgomery, Ala., and started classes on Monday.
That chain of events may help the Bulldogs in the long run, Dooley contends.
“I don’t want to put any pressure on them, but losing that guy may have been the best thing to happen to them,” said Dooley, who coached the Bulldogs to six SEC championships and one national title in 25 seasons. “It was a bad-apple type thing, if you ask me.”
“Bad apple” was the second term Dooley used to describe Crowell’s effect on the team. The first was more effective but he asked me not to use it.
Dooley said Crowell undoubtedly is a talented football player and probably was the Bulldogs’ best option at tailback. But the negative effects as far as being a troublemaker and a distraction far out-weighed any skills he brought to the field, Dooley said.
Now that Crowell is gone, “That kind of thing will unite a team many times,” Dooley said. “Historically when things like this have happened in the past, they tend to have a unifying effect on teams. They go on to have an even better season than they were predicted to have.”
Georgia, of course, is generally considered the favorite to repeat as the SEC Eastern Division champions and play in the SEC Championship. That is, if the Bulldogs are still able to field a team. With Crowell out and linebacker Brandon Burrows’ recent decision to transfer in search of more playing time, Georgia has dipped below 70 scholarship players heading into next season. The NCAA allows 85.
At least one person agrees with Dooley. Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow said the last three SEC teams that sent high-profile transfers to play for him — Florida, Auburn and Alabama — went on to win national championships the following season.
Dooley recalled that Georgia had a great player that left after the 1958 season and turned pro as a junior — very unusual in those days — and that rallied the rest of the team, which went on to win the 1959 SEC championship. Dooley could not immediately recall that player’s name, though I deduced it must have been center/linebacker Dave Lloyd, who was drafted in the fourth round that year by the Cleveland Browns. I couldn’t find anyone who knew for sure, but you get the point.
“This guy was a heck of a player, but he was a real problem on the football team,” Dooley said. “When he decided to leave, Coach [Wally] Butts went into a depression; he knew he had lost his best athlete. But as it turned out it unified the team. That often happens.”
Dooley also offered what I thought was one of the more insightful observations I’ve heard about Crowell as a running back last season. As we all know, Crowell’s toughness was questioned as he often pulled himself out of games or found himself sidelined with minor injuries. Dooley thought there might have been a good solution for that.
“Looking back at it, he would have been a great second-half running back,” Dooley said. “I never wanted that guy around in the fourth quarter if he started the game, because it seemed like he’d had enough by then. But I would’ve loved to have him around in the third or fourth quarter if he hadn’t played any to that point. Imagine once the defense gets tired and he comes in. He could’ve been a superstar second-half player. Herschel [Walker] got stronger in the fourth; this guy got weaker. So I would’ve waited until the second half to play him. He was pretty doggone good when he was fresh. That might’ve been a good idea looking back at it.”
Dooley has always had a great football mind.