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Monday, July 20, 2009

Catching Up With... Rex Robinson

It has been a little while since we caught up with a former player on the blog, but today's conversation was definitely worth the wait. I spoke last week with Rex Robinson, who in addition to serving as the kicker on Georgia's 1980 national championship team, is also one heck of a blogger. He launched his Bulldogs-related blog, Roughing the Kicker, a few months back, and regularly manages to write exceptional posts on subjects ranging from Georgia's special teams play to some great anecdotes about the good old days in Athens.

You can find Rex's blog HERE or follow him on Twitter HERE.

While Rex has done a great job talking about some of the most pressing issues facing the Bulldogs on his blog, he also was kind enough to take time out to chat with me about Georgia's kickoff issues, the biggest question marks facing the team in 2009 and, of course, we talk a little shop about the business of blogging.

This is probably one of the longer entries in our "Catching Up With..." series, but I promise this one is worth the read. (Perhaps you should print it out and take it someplace quiet. If you work in an office, feel free to leave a copy for the next person, too.)

Anyway, here ya go....

David Hale: OK, let's talk shop for a minute. I've really enjoyed reading your blog since you started it, but I read a post the other day in which you wrote that some of your friends were shocked you could even put two sentences together, let alone maintain a blog. So what got you interested in doing it in the first place?

Rex Robinson:
When I was in high school, I did a little bit of writing, but it was usually what might be construed as poetry or lyrics for songs. It was always something that I just used as a way of getting my thoughts down or my feelings out on paper. I guess only one of them was ever really published, and that was in my junior year yearbook, which was a unique one because it was the bicentennial in 1976.

I never had really thought about it until very recently. I started my business in January, and I ran into a guy named Ron Tarpley. ... Ron had started a Web site called Prep News Report and had gone through that process of learning how to put together a Web site. As we talked about it, he said, 'You need to do a blog.' I had a couple other people say that if you're trying to reach people, you need to do a blog, but Ron was the one that really put me over the top in deciding I wanted to pursue it.

The first one I did was on Word Press, which was pretty easy for someone like me that's not really a computer type of guy, but it really took off. That really blew me away how, in the first month, particularly with the article on the kickoff situation over at Georgia, I had like 14,000 views my first month. In the big picture, I know that's not huge, but for me, that blew me a way to go from zero to whatever in a month's time.

It's gone, I guess well. I did get a lot of positive feedback. Out of the 10 or 12,000 people, unique visitors, less than half come back. So even though that's a decent number, I guess, that to me means a lot of people said, 'What is this crap?' and have not come back. So I haven't gotten a big head yet that it's that big a deal or that it's ultimately going to be a huge thing, but it's been fun and it's given me another way to communicate with fans.

DH: One of the great things about writing about Georgia is how passionate the fans are. What has been the response you've gotten from fans who have found your blog?

It's been overwhelmingly positive, but I don't get a tremendous number of comments left on the blog, which leads me to believe there's a lot of people out there that don't agree with everything that I say or talk about. I'm trying not to be overly controversial, even though when I have written things that are critical of the coaching staff or something of that nature, it just blows up. But I don't want to go down that path intentionally. If it's really something I feel strongly about, then I will. I don't want to be one of those old-school reporters or tabloid type of deals where I'm just saying stuff for the sake of generating traffic. But occasionally I'll get someone who offers a little bit different slant on something, but I've gotten mostly very, very positive feedback.

What was funny is one thing I saw on another blog was actually a comment about one of my first blogs, probably one of the first three or four blogs. A guy said something about that I made Mark Bradley and Terence Moore look good as far as my sports mind and the way I looked at things. I've never been overly critical of those guys -- though I don't really care for Terence Moore too much -- but I knew what he was saying, and it wasn't good.

Then later on, two or three weeks later, he actually left a very positive comment on my blog. So I don't know that he's totally come around, but I had to tell myself that I had to be prepared for people to say negative stuff. With people being anonymous, a lot of them will say stuff that if we were standing face to face, they certainly wouldn't. So I prepared myself if I really wanted to go down that road, and so far it's been OK.

DH: A couple months ago, Urban Meyer made news by saying that he didn't want any former players to say anything negative about the Florida program, and if they did, they were no longer welcome in the locker room or at practice. You've written some things that have been at least a little critical of some of the things Georgia has done. What kind of feedback did you get from the team or the coaching staff?

I have not been contacted and I haven't run into anyone. I haven't had the opportunity to go over to Athens for any reason. I almost went over last Thursday because I had gotten a call a few weeks ago from Blair (Walsh) just wanting me to come by when those guys kicked. He, Drew (Butler) and Ty Frix all get together and kick on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Anyway, I haven't been to Athens since all this started, but I probably will be going pretty soon, and I don't know what to expect. I don't know how much of this might have gotten back to the staff. I know some people on Twitter actually tried to get Coach (Mark) Richt to go to my blog when I was talking about all that stuff. I don't know that he ever did.

I'm of the opinion that -- I truly respect Coach Richt, and I really respect all of those coaches, and the fact that there might be one aspect of things that doesn't quite seem right or the best that it could be, I don't think that's anything to be that upset about. I don't call them names like some people do. Somebody left a comment on my blog the other day calling Coach (Jon) Fabris a numbskull. I had to answer and said, 'I don't think that he's a numbskull. I just think that he's possibly stubborn and maybe a little shortsighted on this one issue.' He's a great defensive ends coach, but they seem to really feel like they need to, what I would call, hide the weaknesses they have on the coverage team by putting all the pressure on the kicker, and that's a tough thing, particularly for a true freshman.

Anyway, I don't know what to expect. I doubt Coach Richt would ever take that position that Urban Meyer took. I think they're really pretty different people. And hopefully he has seen some of the other stuff that I've written, because I'm really not blowing smoke or anything. I truly believe all the positive things I've said about him, too, so hopefully he'll know where I'm coming from.

DH: I know kickers have to stick together, but you've gotten to be pretty close with Blair. How did that relationship develop, and what was it like for you watching his season unfold last year?

I went over to Athens one day to watch practice and while I was there I met Blair that day. It was sort of like Brandon (Bogotay) when I talked to him on the phone a few weeks ago. They know enough about the history and tradition of Georgia to know who I was and was very respectful of that. He's a very nice guy. I had been watching him, and he's very serious about what he's doing, very focused. I had watched him kick some and he did well.

It was very difficult for me to watch the whole season progress because I felt like they were putting all that pressure on him. If he'd been an upperclassmen and had been there a couple of years and was physically stronger and more mature, I don't think it would have been as big a deal. But to continually put that amount of pressure on him, and even in games when it was obviously very windy, they were still trying to kick over there to the corner and it went out of bounds.

I think it ultimately, that one aspect of things, the kickoffs affected him overall, confidence-wise and maybe even technique-wise. I think even Kevin Butler voiced that opinion in his postgame one time. What you're asking Blair to do, he sort of had to go to extremes with how hard he's kicking the ball. It got to the point where he was almost aiming it instead of kicking it, and I don't if you ever played baseball or any other sports, but when you start thinking too much, things go bad. I think that's where he went with that.

It was difficult to see. I went and saw him around December or January and had lunch. We talked about some of the issues. For guys like that that have sort of gone through a rough patch, I always tell them that during the offseason, they can sort of prepare themselves for anything. They may have gotten blindsided as a freshman, but you can't get blindsided twice.

I think Coach Fabris can really be kind of hard on those guys as true freshmen. I think that may have happened to Andy Bailey, and I think it may have happened with Blair temporarily. Blair started off well. Andy got off to a rough start and never really recovered totally from his experience as a freshman. Andy never progressed through his four or five years. Blair started off well but struggled late. But I think all the competition that's coming, Brandon and all those things, I think it's going to create a good situation. I think both of those guys will respond well.

DH: You mentioned on your blog a little while back that you had a chance to talk with Brandon Bogotay as well. What was your impression of him?

RR: He seems to be a very level-headed and good guy. I was very impressed. Both guys seem to have the right attitude in terms of not assuming anything one way or the other. I don't think Brandon is assuming he'll be the guy, and I don't think Blair is assuming he won't be the guy. I know he wants to be the guy to do the kickoffs and field goals. They seem to have gotten off to a good start in terms of their relationship, having a working relationship that will be positive and not have a lot of animosity in it.

I commented earlier this week, I don't think they are going to make any wholesale changes in the kickoff program. If Brandon wins the job, I think it will be because he's better at the directional kicking. He may be able to kick it a little bit deeper, but still with good height and into the corner. You probably know that I feel like they ought to just let those guys kick it as deep as they can, even if it's the goal line or two or three yards deep, and then just cover it. Brandon kicks it a long way, but if he doesn't kick it 100 percent of the time, Coach Fabris is not going to go for it. If he were to kick it -- this is maybe a little bit of an exaggeration -- but if he were to kick it out of the end zone 75 percent of the time, the fact that that 25 percent remains and the ball is coming back out, I don't think Coach Fabris would let him do it.

DH: One of the things I hear from fans quite a bit -- and this is probably a lot easier said than done -- but one of the biggest complaints I get is, if Georgia is struggling on special teams, why not hire a full-time special teams coach. Do you think having a coach that was strictly dedicated to that rather than splitting duties would make a real difference?

In a perfect world, maybe. But the NCAA has limitations on the number of coaches that can be out there, and it's created a situation where you can't have a true kicking coach anymore, even if it's a volunteer. You just can't have that body out there, which is the craziest thing. I think most of them would say if they had somebody that could be on the field and devote their full time to that kind of thing, then maybe. But the thing is, all those guys are great coaches. It's not that they're deficient as coaches. It's just a difference of opinion as to what the best philosophy is. It's not like they're struggling because (Fabris) doesn't have the time or the focus. He's not deficient in his preparation or knowledge or anything like that. It's just a very strong opinion of his that that's the way it ought to be done. Lots of people disagree with it. His philosophy is one thing, and a lot of people think it should be different.

DH: OK, I'll stop hassling you about the kickers for a bit and go a little more big picture. I talked with Mark Richt a few weeks ago, and even he says this is one of the least predictable seasons he can remember. From what you've seen and heard about the team so far, what are your expectations for the upcoming season?

I think that Coach Richt has been pretty open since the season that maybe they didn't do all they could to be all that they could be last year when everything was so hyped. I've heard through the grapevine that maybe from the top down they didn't prepare the same way they did in previous years when they had had so much success. It's one of those things where, maybe not so much the coaches, but the players had read their press clippings too much. I think they went back to the drawing board and have had a renewed focus that's probably going to mean they're going to be pretty doggone good.

I think that Joe Cox is, I don't think quarterback is a problem at all. The question mark to me is at running back. With the opportunities that Caleb (King) had and that Richard Samuel had, they really never showed that flash that you -- not even a Knowshon flash, but any kind of flash that they could be the every down guy if they were expected to be. That's the only thing that concerns me is whether one of those guys will be able to be the main guy.

It obviously won't be the end of the world if they have to do a committee type of scenario. As long as they're able to keep them honest with our receivers and everything and with Joe, I think they're going to be pretty good. I think the defense will be better, again after going back to the drawing board and really realizing, hey, this was not good last year. We've got to get better. And I think they'll be better.

To me there's no way to predict -- and I don't like predicting a record or something like that. I think the Oklahoma State game, with it being the first game could be one of those 45-42 games again, hopefully with us being 45. But if they do put it all together, when those guys are focused like in the Hawaii game or LSU a few years ago when they were in Athens, when they're focused, they're scary good. They just play with so much energy from beginning to end. It's just been the last couple years they haven't always done that, and it really hurts them when they don't come out totally prepared.

DH: Well, we're just a few days away from SEC Media Days and only two weeks away from the start of practice. I know I'm pretty excited about the new season. Do you remember what it was like during your playing days at this time of year?

It was great because -- I have thought about it here lately because I've been coaching some college kickers and learning about what they've been doing to prepare. It always makes me think back to my mind-set going into a season. From May, maybe late May or early June, the preseason magazines started coming out. They'd have the predictions of preseason All-SEC, the preseason rankings and all that stuff. It was fuel to the fire as far as, it's close, it's coming. Coach (Erk) Russell always used it as motivation. He'd send out these letters during the summer. A couple different times he sent out this note that said, 'Athlon has Georgia ranked sixth in the SEC in their preseason poll. But you know what Dogs do to poles.' Just stuff like that to get you fired up.

I always set personal goals because as a kicker, you were always on an island anyway. So I felt like if I set personal goals that were pretty lofty and I reached those goals, then I was helping the team at the same time. I always had the attitude that I wanted to do my part and make sure that when the season came to an end nobody could say, 'Man, if we only had a decent kicker, we could've been good.'

I was sort of away from it for a while. In the past six or eight years, I've gotten more and more involved in high school athletics and then went on to college, so I've really gotten back into it. I don't always come to Athens, but I watch from 12 noon to 12 midnight every Saturday, and flip it to every conceivable place where there might be a game, so I'm very excited.


Ron Tarpley said...

Thanks for the article. When I suggested that Rex should start a blog I just thought it would be great to hear a few war stories from "back in the day". When he started writing about various topics I realized that he was actually a very talented writer! His depth and insight on topical issues make Rex a daily, we need to figure out a way to get him on the radio.

jferg said...

Nice piece!

Are we, the fans, the only ones who realize that our kicking woes (and all special teams for that matter) play a LARGE role in the success of our team?

One definition of insanity that gets thrown around a lot is "doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result". From what Rex says in this piece, and my own seldom astute observations, it sounds like Coach Fabris may be insane regarding his kickoff strategy. Continuing to kick to the corner just doesn't seem to make sense given our results.
This is petty, I know, given our success overall and the sheer number of 10 win I admit to my pettiness (sp?) here.