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Friday, June 12, 2009

Sometimes You Wanna Go...

I spent a majority of my Thursday watching reruns of "Cheers" and doing laundry. I recently decided that I had seen every episode of "Seinfeld" too many times, so I had to switch up my syndicated sitcom of choice, and determined that "Cheers" would be a welcome addition to my DVR schedule.

Anyway, I watched six episodes, my favorite being one from the final season in which Harry the Hat (played by "Night Court's" Harry Anderson) helped the gang at Cheers finally exact some revenge on Gary from Gary's Olde Towne Tavern. The ongoing war between Cheers and Gary's was always one of the best recurring storylines of the show, and Gary, of course, always got the better of Sam's crew.

Beyond the mini-marathon of "Cheers," I also spent a relatively sizable chunk of my day reading through the extensive copy dedicated to the potential success of Lane Kiffin, as posted by T Kyle King HERE, Senator Blutarsky HERE, and some fine Tennessee fans HERE. To say the least, it was enjoyable.

I'm not about to jump into the fray of wondering how much success Kiffin will find this season at Tennessee -- although I believe I didn't exactly pick the Vols to do well in my way-too-early projections -- but some of the points King discusses touched on something I've been thinking about for a while.

I spent some time listening to Kiffin explain his offseason antics in Destin, Fla. two weeks ago. Dubious or not, Kiffin seems to think he needed to be a little wacky this offseason in order to bring attention to Tennessee. He felt he needed to throw a few stones at the opposition in order to turn the spotlight back to his school. He needed to get his name -- and by association, I presume, the Volunteers' -- into the national conversation in order to ensure he'd have a shot at luring prized recruits. The results, he suggests, speak for themselves, insofar as Tennessee landed a top-10 recruiting class and the nation's No. 1 overall recruit.

Now, regardless of whether or not you believe all of this was premeditated, I think there's another question to be asked: Since when did Tennessee need publicity stunts to be regarded as a national program? Say what you want about Phil Fulmer, but beyond a few legal headaches in Alabama and the obvious marketing tie-ins with Krispy Kreme, when did he need to make an ass out of himself in order for people to pay attention to the Vols?

I've rarely cared one way or another about Tennessee, but come on... they're better than that, right?

In King's post, his essential point (and I'm glossing over some good stuff) was that, Kiffin may be a fine recruiter, but he hasn't proven he can coach. Valid point.

But my question is -- is he really a fine recruiter? Yes, he got a good class this time in terms of the valuations by recruiting sites (which are at least on occasion a bit dubious) but if this is Kiffin's method for recruiting, is he really getting the type of players a program wants?

That's the thing about publicity stunts. They're stunts, and they're designed to get a quick boost in interest, but they never last. There's a reason the Yankees and Lakers don't offer publicity stunts, and there's a reason why two-bit teams in small towns offer free haircuts, speed dating at the ballpark and Rod Blagojevich bobbleheads. My guess is that most Tennessee fans would prefer to be associated with the former than the latter.

For the past few weeks, I've been talking with a number of Georgia's incoming freshmen for a Getting to Know You series. In each interview, I've asked them the same question: What brought you to Georgia?

These aren't just local kids who spent their lives wanting to play for the Bulldogs. These are players from California and Virginia and Massachusetts. Even the local standouts like Branden Smith were recruited heavily by other top schools. Orson Charles picked Georgia over Florida and Southern Cal, arguably the two best programs in the country in terms of wins and losses.

Despite the distinct differences in the backgrounds of each player, they all gave essentially the exact same response: Georgia felt like a family.

OK, so at this point, unless you're a rose-colored-glasses-wearing Georgia fan, you're rolling your eyes and saying, "Of course they said that." I get it, and I'm not trying to be the head of the Mark Richt fan club.

But think about it: They didn't say they came for playing time or because it was their best chance to win a national title or because Georgia puts so many players into the NFL. I have no doubt that all of those things factored into their decision, and all would have been valid answers to my query. Instead, however, every one of them -- and I've talked to nearly a dozen (many of which I haven't posted yet) -- said the same thing. Family.

At that same press conference Kiffin held in Destin, he was asked how recruiting in the SEC was different from other areas of the country. Here's what he said about kids in the South:

"It's the people around them more, the relationships around him. A lot of times the kid's not making the decision on his own. Someone else is making it for him. I think different parts of the country, it's more about the kids himself than about the parents or the coaches. It's more about family values here."

This should sound at least a little familiar to Georgia fans, since Kiffin essentially said Marlon Brown only chose the Bulldogs because his grandmother was so taken with Richt. (And in case you were wondering, here's what Brown told me when I asked him why he came here: "Probably the thing that made up my mind was the people. Coach Richt and his staff did a good job of recruiting me from Day 1, and that's really what made the difference.")

In any case, clearly Kiffin acknowledges that creating a family environment is important to landing top recruits in the area, and yet he thinks that publicity stunts and boorish behavior were a necessity to get good players to come to Tennessee.

Now, I'm not saying Richt is the perfect family man, both at home and in the locker room. Clearly Georgia has missed out on some top recruits that were also good kids (UT's Eric Berry springs to mind). But there's a good reason why so many of this year's incoming freshmen said they felt at home in Athens.

During the season, I spent countless days over at the Butts-Mehre building, watching practice and doing interviews. The one guy who I didn't talk to all season was Stacy Searels. He wasn't doing interviews, as you may know. But you know who I talked to at least once a week? Searels' daughter. She was always running around the halls and playing on the elevators along with the other coaches' kids. Marcus Washington's wife and kids were often in the building, hanging out with players. Former players dropped by often with their families to visit. Richt's wife is the water girl on game day. It really is a family environment.

Now, I'm not saying none of those things happen at Tennessee or anywhere else. I'm sure they do. But rather than rent limos or rip off shirts or call out other coaches, it's that family environment that Georgia's coaching staff sells, and I have no doubt that it attracts a specific type of person to want to play for the Bulldogs.

In fact, here's another great example that Rodney Garner gave about the recruitment of Montez Robinson from Indiana:

"He was a young man that was from the state of Alabama. He's sort of a unique story a lot like DeAngelo Tyson. He's been a ward of the state since he was six years old. Just getting to know him, you really felt a bond toward him, a love for him, and you really felt like he was an outstanding young man. Here's a kid that came from a very difficult set of circumstances, but yet he was able to rise up and is going to be able to do something special with his life. He has eight brothers and sisters, he's the oldest, and I think they are all looking to him to do something special. It's not just from an athletic standpoint, but I think we all fell in love with him as a person, too. I think arguably he is the best player in the state of Indiana, and we're excited about him getting here in June and getting in with this family. We know he's going to have a family once he gets here."

Seriously, if you heard that, wouldn't you want to go play for Garner, too? Maybe a lot of it is B.S., but it's pretty convincing B.S.

That, of course, is not to say every player who has worn the red and black has been a good guy. Some haven't been. Some have been good people but still made some bad mistakes. Nobody's perfect.

But when you look big picture and compare the approach of Lane Kiffin with the approach of Mark Richt, there's a good chance you end up with two markedly different recruiting classes. Both might have top-10 talent, but they're likely to have distinctly divergent agendas they hope that talent helps them achieve. There were, after all, a lot of folks at USC who were thrilled to have O.J. Mayo, and a lot of fans at other schools who were angry they missed out. How'd that work out for Tim Floyd?

I guess what I'm saying is, Kiffin can trumpet the success of his over-the-top approach all he wants. In terms of bringing talent and attention to Tennessee, it certainly seems to have worked. But sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.

Gary spent a lot of years tormenting the gang at Cheers, but in the episode I watched yesterday, he finally got what was coming to him. Harry convinced Gary he was a billionaire developer interested in buying the property where Gary's bar was located. Hoping to play one final prank on Cheers, Gary demolished his own bar and tried to pin it on the Cheers gang, only to learn that Harry was a fraud. In the end, his arrogance was his own downfall. (Well, that and some delightful hijinks from Harry the Hat.)

Being the loudest, most confident guy in the room has its immediate rewards, but there's an upside to being understated and biding your time. Kiffin might take a lesson from Gary's ultimate demise. While a lot of talented players want to have their ego stroked and the world handed to them, there are plenty of others who simply want to go where everybody knows their name.

11 comments:

Streit said...

David,

Great piece of writing. I couldn't agree with you more. Even if a coach does a "perfect" job of recruiting a player, at the end of the day it comes down to the player's wishses and those of his family. The perfect example is Eric Berry, who Georgia recruited as as they could but Berry utlimately chose UT. Berry's father had played there and I know that played a big decision.

I definitely prefer the coach who who takes the time to not only recruit talent, but players who will be good representatives of the university. A big deal was made about arrests last off-season, but they were for things like drinking (which all gollege kids do). I really am surprised Florida has not been torn apart like we were after 24 arrests since Meyer became coach for things ranging from drugs to using a dead girl's credit card.

I hope cpach Richt and the staff continue their recruiting efforts and would be ashamed if we ever resorted to the methods Kiffin is currently taking.

Burton Bulldog said...

Great piece!

UGABulldog14 said...

I really like the atmosphere Coach Richt has created at UGA, but even as a Dawg fan I thought this article was a bit too negative towards Tennessee.

Lane Kiffin has been annoying and has made a lot of enemies you don't want to have going into your first game as a college head coach, but I can't say that his antics will result in Tennessee on serious probation or UT having the ever-so-popular "bunch of thugs" on his team. I'm not saying you said this, but this is the idea I got.

I'm far, far from a Tennessee fan and probably have more animosity towads them than most UGA fans, but I think it is a bit much to say Kiffin will only get the rotten apples, or that he will get more rotten apples than most ('cause we're all gonna get some each year).

I think Kiffin is trying to create a fun atmosphere. I do not think he went about it the right way at all. I think he's a dubious character, too, judging from him making Al Davis look like the sane one (in my opinion). But I just can't say that Lane Kiffin is going to end up with a bunch of me-first players that do their own thing.

Different things work for different schools and different coaches. I hope this doesn't come as an insult to Florida, and I may be wrong, but they seem to be more of a business than a family, and look where that has gotten them. I judge that off of the overall feeling Urban Meyer gives off. Same with Southern Cal and Pete Carroll. I just think Kiffin is trying to show that he'll be a player's coach, and I think he went about it in the wrong way. There has to be something he could've done with a little more class that would've gotten UT off-season publicity from the start.

David Hale said...

Fair points, Bulldog14. I certainly don't think Kiffin will get ALL bad guys or even that his intention is to ignore character. I guess my point was just to say that he has taken a markedly different approach than Richt (and others, to be sure) have, and I think that one approach is MORE LIKELY to get you players that are more concerned with themselves.

Mike In Valdosta said...

Great work, Dave. I really wanted to leave a snarky comment regarding Kiffin but it doesn't seem appropriate.

Anonymous said...

You just made my Friday, David Hale! Great read!

Jon Koncak's Thighs said...

Spot on, DH. I thought that was a fantastic piece of writing, and a great closing graph.

I didn't read it as an attack as much as Bulldog14 did, and cringed at that commenter's salient point about Meyer's/UF's approach to recruiting and subsequent success... but taking the long view, you have to feel good about our program going forward. We are in a wonderfully unique position - one of utter stability, consistently above-average-to-great performance, and (for all the "what about us?" posturing we Dawg fans put out there) enjoying unprecedented national media and recruiting cachet as a program. All of that comes out of the attitude, work ethic and planning of our coach(es).

Seriously though, I didn't know how you were going to pull that analogy together, DH, and you nailed it. Will be DVRing Cheers tonight. Been catching it randomly of late, for the first time in a long while. I guess I will be diving back into it now.

Steve said...

One of the blogs I check regularly is written by Ken Levine who, as you may or may not know, wrote for Cheers. As a fan of the show, it may be worth checking out.

http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/

Keep up the good work!

South FL Dawg said...

Well written, the end really brings it home. Admittedly I don't how Kiffin Jr. is going to fare....on the one hand he must understand the x's and o's, but on the other hand, he's no people person and players are people.

Anonymous said...

There is no master plan here. Kiffin does these things spontaneously because he doesn't know better. When the dust clears from his latest "stunt" he is only too happy to go along with his apologists and say that it was all part of the "plan". Truth is he is simply prone to doing stupid things. Others dress up the mess as best they can.

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