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Monday, November 3, 2008

In Defense of the Coaching Staff

First off, in case you haven't already heard -- and that it's at all shocking -- Phil Fulmer has agreed to step down at Tennessee at season's end. What the Vols have endured in two of the past four seasons can officially be considered bad.

What Georgia has endured this year hardly compares.

I get that people are upset. I get that the game was ugly. I get that the loss is embarrassing. But I just don't get how so many people can so quickly turn on Mark Richt.

I'm not going to go on a rant about how good Georgia has been under Richt, how far the program has come since Vince Dooley's heyday, or how consecutive two-loss seasons (which could very well happen) is hardly a bad thing. But I think there has to be a voice of reason here.

Look, I'm not saying the coaches don't deserve any blame. The high number of penalties early, and the costly times when they have happened have undermined a lot of success. The play calling this season has been completely frustrating and inexplicable on far too many occasions. The Bulldogs had no focus heading into the Alabama game, and only the coaches can be blamed for that. The off-field issues -- while hardly Richt's fault -- have been a major embarrassment for the school.

At the end of the day, a lot rests on the coach's shoulders. But here's what doesn't:

-- The schedule is what it is. Florida and Alabama haven't faced nearly as tough a slate as Georgia has this year. That doesn't equate to a 31-0 half and a 35-7 half, but the fact is, a tough schedule takes its toll, and the toll was higher for Georgia than for anyone else in the SEC.

-- The offensive line in insanely young. Stacy Searels has done a remarkable job piecing the line together. The players have put on a good face about the whole situation. But at the end of the day, there isn't a junior or senior on the roster, one of the assumed starters (Kiante Tripp) has been a total loss and two other projected starters (Trinton Sturdivant and Vince Vance) are done for the season. The idea that a team with an offensive line like that would be a top-15 squad -- let alone a team with national title aspirations -- is hard to believe.

-- The sheer number of injuries have been too much to overcome. Coaches and players won't use injuries as excuses, but what has happened this season is ridiculous. Vance, Sturdivant, Kenneth Harris, Tripp Chandler, Bruce Figgins, Tavares King, Kris Durham, Dannell Ellerbe, Rod Battle and Quintin Banks are all among the players expected to play significant roles this season who have missed at least one game due to injuries, and that doesn't even take into consideration the other players who have played through nagging aches and pains.

-- Not that it really mattered in the end, but a freshman kicker is a freshman kicker, and while Blair Walsh has had his moments, he was bound to run into a rough patch. Sure, his two misses were a drop of water in the ocean of a 39-point loss, but the game certainly could have turned out a bit differently had it been closer at the half.

Again, I'm not saying that the coaches had a great game against Alabama or Georgia. There are some things that I just don't understand and can't explain that Bobo and Martinez continue to do over and over. I also agree that it seems like Georgia lacks that killer instinct. They have not shown the ability to put an opponent away and have not shown the will to overcome a bad run of plays against them. I'll offer more critiques in my Grading the Game post later today.

But at the end of the day, the fact that an 11-2 season is something to complain about says all you need to know about the job Richt and company have done. When was the last time Georgia had back-to-back two-loss seasons? When was the last time the Dogs started the season at No. 1? When was the last time the program was consistently recruiting top talent nationally?

The credit for those things belongs as much with the coaching staff as the blame for the poor performances this year and last.

I think the problem a lot of fans have right now is that the coaches and players don't seem as angry as the fans are about these losses. I get that. But I also think we don't see what the locker room is really like. The players and coaches put on a happy face for the media because, frankly, there's not much else they can do. If you blow up, you complain, you point fingers, you end up like Tennessee. You go from 11-2 to 5-7 quickly when the blame starts getting thrown around. The only way to move on successfully is to compartmentalize the loss, refocus on the next game, and pick up as many more wins as you can the rest of the way. Then when it's all over and done with, you figure out where things went wrong. I think we shouldn't jump to any conclusions about the longterm ramifcations of this loss in the immediate wake of the defeat.

Things are bound to look bad in the wake of a 49-10 loss. There's no other way to look at it. But look at what is happening at Tennessee and it's easy to see things could be a lot worse.

It's easy to look at Alabama and Florida and see the take-no-prisoners personalities of Urban Meyer and Nick Saban and assume that's what's missing at Georgia. But those personalities come with a price, and my guess is, at the end of the day, it's one most Georgia fans would rather not pay. And as I remember, Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe last season, and Meyer's Gators dropped four games.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your overall point that UGA is better off with CMR than without him. The biggest problem I have (and many others) is the same problem seems to be occuring over and over (the past 3 year anyway) and CMR either doesn't see it as a problem or is unwilling to address it. That problem is the teams ivnisible act a couple of times a year, usually in big games. In my opinion, we need a firey DC that will keep the team pumped a la Van Gorder, Muschamp, Russel, etc. That would be a great counter to Richts even demeaner and has proven successful.

Anonymous said...

I cannot figure out if I should be happy or mad that the game was much closer than the score indicates. We borderline dominated the first half, driving up and down the field at will, and holding UF's vaunted offense to very little.

I just think we need a couple of thugged out ruffians like UF, Miami and UF have consistently had. Ufk shows what happens when you get too many of those guys. But honestly, I think we are just a little soft as a program.

Our guys continuously get into trouble for driving mopeds on suspended licenses. That's not thug behavior. Firing assault rifles in public-that's thug. No one can deny that having a couple of guys like Odell on the team lend a little bit of toughness to the team that we simply do not have. I love having a team full of valedictorians and class presidents, but we need a couple of straight up gangstas if we want to discontinue the current pace of public bed-wetting at least twice per season.

baltimore dawg said...

david, your larger point is entirely correct, but anon @11:57 is right, too. you can recognize and appreciate the coaching staff's tremendous accomplishments while admitting that the big losses going back to wvu are of a piece and represent a pattern that suggests that not everything happening at butts-mehre yields positive results. these are not mutually exclusive points.

Anonymous said...

Everyone asks the question, "How can we lose so badly twice in one season with the level of talent on our roster"? I say that the only reason we've won the games is because of our talent level. In other words, we've won despite our coaching staff.

Here's the million dollar question. Do you really believe that Bobo and Martinez would be hired if UGA was searching for coordinators? Their resumes don't hold any weight. And they're results are less than spectacular.

I'm sure that Bobo loves the Dawgs as much as I love the Dawgs. Maybe we shouldn't fire him. But one thing is for sure.

Reptition only occurs when you do the same thing over and over again. Until something changes, expect more of the same.

Periods of brilliance coupled with strange, lackluster performances. History tends to repeat itself.