Today, we come to the end of the regular season. Tomorrow, we're likely to start a whole new whirlwind of activity.
The rumor mill on the fate of Georgia's assistant coaches has been swirling for two full years now, and it's about to reach a fever pitch. It's hard to say what will happen, when it will happen or how dramatic the effects will be. But I can tell you two things for certain:
First, there will be changes. That doesn't necessarily mean that coaches will be gone, but while fans have taken much of Mark Richt's unflinching approach to this year's problems as a tacit endorsement of the status quo, I'm told that what has gone on behind closed doors is not so calm, cool and collected. Again, I have not been told that any changes are definitively in the works, but those fans who think Richt will not take a hard look at his program are underestimating him.
Second, a new set of assistants will not be an instant fix. A cursory look at the history of programs that have had massive coaching overhauls on one side of the ball or the other reveals as many instances where the head coach has been gone within a year or two as it reveals situations in which the problems were solved. Most fans look at coaching changes as a necessity, but there are drawbacks in terms of recruits being lost, the time it takes for players to adjust to a new system and the time it takes for the new coaches to adjust to their surroundings. In many cases, it's a situation of being careful what you wish for.
Beyond that, there isn't much that's set in stone for next week. If changes are going to be made, they could come quickly to avoid a lot of negative recruiting during the all-important contact period next week. Or coaches could stick around for the bowl game. Or changes could me made, then more happen among the assistants after a new coordinator is brought in. Or nothing will happen at all.
But while we're waiting to find out, here are a few issues I've come across in recent days...
What will happen with Rodney Garner?
In the discussions about Willie Martinez's future, Garner's name invariably comes up. The assumption is that if Garner isn't going to be offered a coordinator job, he might choose to leave rather than settle for being passed over for a promotion. This is worrisome for fans who have seen Garner turn Georgia's recruiting into a juggernaut during his tenure.
Garner was a hot commodity last season, interviewing for Auburn's head coaching job and being offered spots on the staff of both Lane Kiffin at Tennessee and Gene Chizik, after he was eventually brought in as the head coach at Auburn.
Even beyond recruiting, Garner's potential departure could cause other problems. Much was made a few weeks ago about Montez Robinson's potential transfer, and that issue would no doubt rise again if Garner left. The two are extremely close, and Robinson told me that had Garner left last season, he would have followed. Robinson is hardly the only Georgia player with close ties to Garner, so it could certainly shake things up if he leaves.
But there's more on Garner…
I spoke with Garner earlier this week about his interest in potential head coaching vacancies throughout the country, of which there will be more than a few at both the FBS and FCS levels. He was a bit reserved in his comments for obvious reasons, but he said he would not rule out pursuing another head coaching job regardless of any changes at Georgia. Beyond that, however, he was keeping quiet.
"My whole focus is Georgia Tech," he said. "Let’s get this behind us and we’ll deal with whatever comes.”
But there's even more on Garner...
Dean Legge at Dawg Post ($$$) submitted a Freedom of Information request for all the assistant coaches' contracts last week. UGA reported back that Garner, in fact, didn't have a contract.
This seemed odd, so I asked Garner about it. His response was short and sweet:
“Ask Mr. Evans."
I then asked if that meant that it was not Garner's decision not to sign a contract.
"Someone else would be in a better position to explain it,” he said.
Well, I took Garner's advice and talked to Damon Evans about it. Here's how that conversation went:
Me: Why is it that Coach Garner doesn't have a contract?
Damon: "He just hasn't signed one."
Me: So did he have a problem with the contract that was offered?
Damon: "No, he just hasn't signed his contract."
Me: So is that something you would have liked to have seen happen?
Damon: "I'll just leave it like this: He hasn't signed a contract."
Sounds like a great relationship, eh?
Of course, that leads us into our next big issue regarding potential coaching changes...
Will Damon Evans open up his wallet to bring in a top guy if a job opens up?
While most fans seem to be upset with Richt for his lack of interest in making changes, it might be fair to wonder what kind of resources Richt would have to work with should changes be required. I have had a couple of sources tell me they aren't sure how much money Georgia would be willing to spend to lure away a top defensive coordinator, let alone buying out a contract that might add to the overall price tag.
(NOTE: According to USA Today's recent analysis of coaching salaries, Georgia currently spends $2,029,816 on its assistant coaches, which ranks sixth among the 11 public institutions in the SEC. Florida ranks seventh, $65,000 behind Georgia, and Kentucky ranks eighth, $80,000 behind the Dawgs.)
Hearing this struck a chord with me. I had actually talked to Evans in the spring about this very subject. After Lane Kiffin broke the bank to bring in a staff of heavy hitters at Tennessee, I asked Evans if he thought that might change the landscape of what assistants at Georgia make. Here's what he said at the time:
"My philosophy is this: We want to keep up with the marketplace. Three institutions don't set the marketplace from my standpoint. They have to do what they feel is appropriate for them, but what I like to do is look at the big picture and see where everyone is big picture and ask, where is Georgia in that marketplace: Lower, middle or upper? Wherever we are, do we feel comfortable with where we are? That's the question I have to answer every day. I tend to believe that we have kept our coaches in a good position in the marketplace.
"Do I think that marketplace is going to change? Yes, I think it's going to change. Will we at Georgia do what's appropriate for the University of Georgia with regard to that marketplace? Yes, at the right time, but I'm not going to overreact to what a handful of schools have done."
Of course, that's what Evans had to say this spring, long before Georgia was a 6-5 team and surrounded by coaching rumors. So, to be fair, I asked him again this week if he had changed his philosophy at all, and I didn't exactly get the response I was expecting.
"First of all, I never gave a philosophy with regard to that, and I don't know if right now is the appropriate time to be talking about that," Evans said. "We've got coaches that are under contract and are paid what they're paid. When you say 'philosophy,' I'm kind of lost when you say 'philosophy.'"
I then proceeded to explain exactly what I meant by "philosophy" and here's what Evans said:
"Let me say this: I never gave you a philosophy with regard to what we would do salary-wise," he said. "I said that I'm not going to overreact to what one or two institutions do. So I always say, what we'll do at Georgia is what we believe is appropriate for that particular coach and for that particular time."Now, maybe I'm way off base here, but it seems to me when your comments begin with "My philosophy is this" and you go on to explain a philosophy, I don't see what's particularly confusing about me referring to that as a philosophy.
And just to be clear, I had emailed Evans the full quote for him to read, but he said he did not receive the email. Regardless, it seemed silly to argue over semantics.
Still, I think we can parse what he did say a bit:
-- "I'm not going to overreact to what one or two institutions do."
What this tells me is that anybody who thinks money won't be an object is not going to be pleased.
-- "We'll do at Georgia is what we believe is appropriate for that particular coach and for that particular time."
What this tells me is that a bump in the overall salary structure won't necessarily be ruled out for the right guy.
As to which of those two statements takes precedent, should a vacancy arise, will likely be the biggest factor in who Georgia would bring in to fill out the staff.
Will Mark Richt even make a change?
A year ago, Richt was definitive in saying that he would not be making any changes to his staff. This year, he has largely avoided the topic, save a few minor examples. When asked this week about how he would handle things, he said he wouldn't be letting public sentiment dictate his evaluation process.
“You can’t let public opinion run your program is probably the best way to say it,” Richt said.
That didn't exactly engender a ton of excitement in fans hopeful for changes, but Richt also alluded to possible moves earlier this year in what was perhaps his most damning statement about the staff, way back in mid-October.
"I think a lot of people expect blood," Richt said after a loss to Tennessee. "They want somebody to be let go or fired or that kind of thing, and maybe that's what needs to be done, but at this point right now, we're going to do what we know is the best thing to do and that's to focus on this game this week."
Well, in the two losses since then -- both of which involved Georgia allowing more than 30 points -- the blood lust from fans has hardly dissipated. And regardless of how much Richt has avoided the topic in favor of a bunker mentality the past few weeks, he must be aware of the public opinion.
As for how likely changes might be, Dean Legge notes that at least one change ($$$) has come on Richt's staff in all but one season since he's been in Athens.
2001: Entirely new staff save Rodney Garner
2002: Tony Pierce dismissed
2003: Ken Rucker
2005: John Jancek, Kirby Smart
2006: Tony Ball
2007: Stacy Searels
2008: John Lilly
2009: Bryan McClendon
Of course, it should also be noted that, of all those changes, Pierce's dismissal was the only one that wasn't voluntary.
What role will Damon Evans have in deciding what changes will be made?
I posed this question to Evans this week, too, and while he offered more support for Richt, he stopped short of saying that he wouldn't be involved in making those decisions.
"Like with everything, all programs are evaluated at the end of the year," Evans said. "As I've stated before, I have confidence that Mark will evaluate his program and do what he feels is appropriate, just like he does every single year. Right now I think our focus should be on the Georgia Tech game, and whatever we deem or Coach Richt deems appropriate, we'll handle at that time."
That's what we'll all be waiting for, no doubt. It should be an interesting week, regardless of what happens tonight.
And while you're waiting, here are a few more tidbits on the coaches that might interest you…
Per the USA Today report, here are the contract terms for each of Georgia's assistants:
|Coach||Salary|| Max Bonus|| Nat'l Rank*|
| Willie Martinez||$325,815||$92,150||34|
| Mike Bobo||$325,000||$92,150||35|
| Jon Fabris||$202,041||$76,852||196|
| John Lilly||$165,480||$62,882||312|
| Tony Ball||$165,480||$62,882||312|
| Bryan McClendon||$90,000||$34,200||657|
*National rank also includes other income from things like shoe and/or apparel contracts, TV and radio appearances, speeches and public appearances or camps. For UGA's staff, that amounts to $1,600 per coach, with the exception of Garner who is not eligible due to his lack of a current contract.
** All coaches are on one-year contracts, except Garner.
And finally, here's an email from John B. that I figured I'd pass along...
I was searching the internet tonight for any info on the rumor that Willie has turned in his resignation effective after the Tech game....
I found this site for a petition to fire Willie.
Its been signed 517 times. The last one coming on Feb 19th. I couldn't help but reading some of these comments. It seems like they were ripped from this years head line. I particularly like #453. It seems like it is pointing to this year's defense.
2:09 pm PST, Dec 5, John McCarthy, Georgia
For UGA fto ever challange for a National Title they must do the following: On offense, quit being nice to your opponents...GO FOR THE JUGULAR AND PILE UP THE POINTS! Otherwise the BCS will keep saying Georgia Who?. On defense, pull out some old film and learn how to play REAL defense without mistakes. Last but not least, Defense wins champoinships and has forever. Put your coach on notice...win here or go lose somewhere else. Earn your salary for a change! Coach the players to stop making key dumb mistakes. Quit giving the momentum back to the opponent. The upperclasmen make to many freshman mistakes.
As a side note I wonder if that is "Big John" McCarthy from UFC fame making comments on the dawgs.