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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thursday Links (1/14)

We're taking a little different approach to today's links.

I'm not usually one to critique the work of my fellow writers and bloggers, and while fisking the competition worked wonders for Keith Olbermann's ratings, it's not a game plan I wish to emulate.

Still, two articles from the past 48 hours have stirred up a bit of buzz, and I think they're both worth addressing. My hope is that this doesn't come off as an opinion piece on my end, but rather an analysis of what's already been written. We shall see.

-- First, we have this column from Mark Bradley, who suggests that South Carolina could be the beneficiary of all the turmoil in the SEC East. The Senator offers some rather stinging criticism of Bradley's findings if you want to start there.

Again, I'm not at this to criticize another writer's take. Bradley is entitled to his argument. But I think it's also worth offering the counter argument.

"They’ll enter next season with a new quarterback, the result of having left Aaron Murray to redshirt. (A wise choice in most years, but not necessarily in the worst season under this head coach.)"

What is conveniently forgotten every time someone mentions the Aaron Murray redshirt is that, in the middle of the season at the point in time he would have been most likely to actually see the field, he was sidelined with a shoulder injury that prevented him from even throwing the football.

While no one would go on the record to say it at the time -- nor should they have, for the purposes of presenting a united front behind Joe Cox -- had Murray not gotten hurt, I think there's a good chance he would have been the starter following the Tennessee game.

"Worse still, there’s a growing feeling across the South that Mark Richt is a year away from feeling the big heat."

I'm not a fan of broad generalizations like this. Who has this growing feeling? I'm not saying it's not true (more on that later) but sweeping statements about a "feeling" are inherently difficult to categorize. No offense to Bradley or anyone at the AJC, but if I went by the "feeling" in the comments I get here or read elsewhere, I could rightly say there's, "a growing feeling throughout the South that the AJC sucks."

If there are legitimate boosters or people within the athletics department or coaches and administrators at competing schools saying that Richt is in serious trouble or that there are glaring issues he's ignoring at Georgia, then let's hear it. But generalizations simply help make an argument that stats or on-the-record quotes can't. I'd like to know more.

"Short of landing Bill Belichick, it will be nigh-impossible for Georgia to emerge from this protracted search with a coordinator who will satisfy the majority of Dog-lovers. And it does seem troubling that three men who worked in the South and have coached against Georgia — Bud Foster of Virginia Tech, John Chavis of LSU and Alabama’s Kirby Smart, who’s a Bulldog born and bred — saw greater opportunity in the current positions than anything awaiting them in Athens."

I've said for the past few weeks that this process is doing nothing positive for Mark Richt's image, so Bradley gets no argument from me on the perception part of this.

But last year when the basketball program bounced from one big name to the next before settling on some guy named Mark Fox, I assumed there would be a reaction similar to the one Bradley predicts will happen now. I was wrong.

As bipolar as the lunatic fringe can be, the overwhelming reaction to even minor critiques I made about Fox in the early going was that of, "STFU Hale." I don't know how long of a leash fans will give the new DC once the season starts, but I'll be surprised if there's not a pretty hefty dose of, "Let's see what he's got" from the fans immediately after the hire.

Moreover, I really don't think Mark Richt has spent a second of this search worrying about what the fans -- or Bradley or myself -- think about it.

"We learned in 2005, when he won the SEC in his first season without David Greene and David Pollack and Brian VanGorder, not to dismiss Mark Richt. We saw it again this season when he took his worst team and beat Georgia Tech’s best aggregation in a decade. That said, the prevailing wind now seems to be blowing against him."

I taught journalism for a few years, and one of the first things I told students was to avoid the word "seems." Now, Bradley's been doing this a lot longer than me, so I'll bow to experience on this one -- but my feeling has always been that "seems" is the ultimate distraction from "is."

And yet, Bradley's best point -- and the reason I ultimately agree with him that the pressure on Richt is now at a high point -- is actually what he says in trying to offer a salient defense for Georgia's coach.

When the stars left in '05, Richt won the SEC. When the chips were down in '09, Richt toppled Tech.

Mark Richt wins when no one expects him to. He did it in 2002, save the lone loss to Florida. But when expectations were ratcheted up with Pollack and Greene the next two years, Richt couldn't close the deal (at least not with an SEC or national title).

He did it in 2005 when his stars left, but he could never turn a Matthew Stafford-Knowshon Moreno combo into an SEC title winner in the years that followed -- despite being a preseason No. 1 last year.

He won the final two games this season, despite everyone counting the Bulldogs out, but he still allowed a talented team to finish with five losses.

When the chips are down, Richt is at his best -- so maybe Bradley's (and plenty of others') sentiments about a decline in the program only serve to boost Georgia's chances going forward.

But as Bradley writes, the East is wide open in 2010, and Georgia's talent on the field should rival anyone else in the division. The same should be true in 2011, when the Dawgs figure to have an experienced QB to go with the rest of that talent. There's every reason to think the next two seasons will be what defines Richt's career at Georgia -- or what ultimately seals his demise.

My guess, however, is that if it all plays out well and the Bulldogs are back atop the East in the next year or two, there will be a lot of folks lining up to commend Mark Richt for taking his time and finding the right guy to take over the defense.

And if things continue to slip and Richt's job is eventually on the line, it won't be the last six weeks people point to as the beginning of the end. It will be the one day it took to announce hiring the wrong guy.

-- The second story that needs a mention is from Buck Belue's blog, which offers his scoop (*Link fixed) on what ultimately prevented Kirby Smart from taking the job at Georgia.

First off, between David Pollack's tweets and Rex Robinson's critiques of the special teams and now Belue's words on Rodney Garner and Dave Van Halanger, I must say that I have a good bit of respect for how the First Amendment seems alive and well throughout the UGA football program. Urban Meyer would probably be on some sort of "American Psycho" killing spree over this kind of commentary from former players, and odds are most former players wouldn't be so willing to call 'em like they see 'em. It warms my heart.

Now, on to Belue's post...

"And the word is, Kirby Smart didn’t want to work with Rodney Garner again."

Belue gives some additional background, and I'll admit that what he writes, I had also heard (or at least most of it). I wouldn't call my sources on that information exceptional -- really little more than rumors -- so I wasn't about to write it. But perhaps Belue's sources on the situation are better than mine.

Regardless, Garner is going to be the elephant in the room in any negotiation. Richt has made it pretty clear that, although he wants the new DC to have a say in filling out his staff, those decisions will ultimately be made by Richt. And it seems clear to this point that Richt wants to keep Garner around.

On the other hand, Garner coaches the D line -- as does Todd Grantham and Travis Jones. Garner also has a pretty strong personality -- which is fine for some, maybe not so much for others. And, as Belue said, Garner has gone toe-to-toe with some of these other SEC coaches on the recruiting trail numerous times, and that type of competition can always stir up some bad blood.

So is Belue right about this? I have no idea. But the bigger question I have is whether or not Richt's insistence on keeping Garner would make you feel better or worse about how this process is playing out?

Next, Belue says Smart was concerned about the strength and conditioning program, but Richt again refused changes.

"There are reports that have some Georgia players going to see a strength coach outside the program. Spoke with one NFL guy who commented that even when Van Halanger was at FSU, the OL/DL prospects coming out of there were great athletes, but not NFL strong."

I've written about all I can at the moment on the S&C program, so I'm not sure what more I can add. The truth is, I have been told by some people off the record that there are concerns among NFL folks that Georgia's S&C program doesn't measure up, but I don't have a single quote from anyone -- scouts, coaches, opponents, current or former players, anyone -- who will go on the record saying that VanHalanger or anyone else is a problem. And while I can't provide numbers from Florida's or Alabama's S&C program as a comparison, I can say that Georgia's strength numbers have continued to go up throughout Mark Richt's tenure in Athens.

So what we get here is a lot of what Belue offers -- innuendo. And perhaps it's true, but as I said, I don't have anyone saying anything negative on the record, and it's not for a lack of trying on my part.

Again, I don't know if there's just smoke or a raging inferno here. I do know that when the team was decimated by injuries in 2008, Richt's response was essentially, "Boy, we've had some bad luck." And when a rash of hamstring injuries befell the team in the fall of '09, Richt's response was, "Hey, no one really understands hamstring injuries. They just happen."

Those answers are fine if they're intended for mass audiences. But if they're the answers Richt is willing to accept behind closed doors, that's a concern.

Because while I can't get an on-the-record critique, Richt can and should. And if he hasn't done that, he's as guilty as if he's simply left Willie Martinez in charge of the defense and carried on as if nothing was wrong.

OK, a few other links before we wrap up...

-- Marc Weiszer has the legal outcome in the Montez Robinson case. I'm told that Robinson is likely to remain on the team but will have some very strict rules he has to follow.

-- Tim Tucker looks at the pursuit of Todd Grantham.

-- Chip Towers says the early indications are that Georgia isn't going to benefit on the recruiting trail from the troubles at Tennessee.

-- The Banner-Herald has a run down of all of Georgia's secondary violations in 2009.

-- WUOG blogs that Mark Richt "seems" to have lost control of his program. (See how easy it is to use that word?)

-- Buck Belue (he's quite prolific lately, eh?) writes that this spring should offer a fun competition for the quarterback job.

-- The Houston Chronicle has an update on Herschel Walker's MMA career.

-- The Detroit Free Press writes that the Lions remain confident that Matthew Stafford has a bright future.

-- Another close-but-no-cigar game for Mark Fox's squad.

-- A baseball player from my neck of the woods is committed to come to Georgia next year.

-- The Red & Black writes that Chance Veazey is finally getting to do some things he'd always wanted.

-- Vanity Fair has an update and photos from "Wall Street 2."

-- "Ghostbusters 3" could start filming this year.

-- And finally, what could be better than a show that combines the '80s with stars from "Kids in the Hall"? It almost makes me wish I lived in Canada. If only they had free health care...


Scott said...

The AJC's sole purpose right now is driving clicks on, and the mandate has obviously come down to their columnists to write columns intended to piss off Dawg fans.

Because when they do, we all fall all over ourselves to castigate them publicly on our own blogs, while linking to the offending article in question. I'm not talking about you, David, but the blogs run by fans, like my own.

So I have definitely made it a point to NEVER click on a link to an article, and the only way I know what muck they are raking today is when people copy and paste excerpts. I can't say that my life is lacking in any way by making that decision.

Anonymous said...

And that, David, is why I read your stuff every day and only read the ajc stuff when I'm bored with nothing else to do. I think Scott is right.

jferg said...

....but if I went by the "feeling" in the comments I get here or read elsewhere, I could rightly say there's, "a growing feeling throughout the South that the AJC sucks."

+1 for DH. Well said my friend!

Mark said...

Well written, as always, David. I agree with you and the other commenters here. Unfortunately, the AJC sportswriters subscribe to that camp that thinks the best way to get readers is to stir up a controversial argument, no matter how ill-founded, rather than just deliver solid journalism. That's why I don't read them much anymore.

I am getting increasingly concerned about the S&C program though.

Dawg '85 said...

There is definitely "a growing feeling throughout the South that the AJC sucks." I haven't bought their newspaper in years... their demise started when "Peach Buzz" which used to cover the Atlanta society/celebrity scene, became "Hip Hop in the ATL"... but that's another story.

Bradley and Shultz are a joke and the posters above have accurately portrayed AJC's motives. But I honestly didn't realize what a joke they are until I started reading this blog this season. DH is a journalist... Bradley and Shultz are sensationalists looking for a bee's nest (or ideally a yellow jacket nest) to poke with their dull #2 pencils.

DH does exhaustive research, states facts, and will let us know when he can't get info from a reliable source... and admits his frustration at times when people are not forthcoming or access to info is restricted.

And when DH states opinion it is always disclaimed as such and supported by the facts/info that are his basis.

David... BRAVO! You have every right to point out when your collegues... they don't deserve to be called peers... don't adhere to basic journalistic tenets. You've called out ESPN before (rightly)... no reason to sugar coat the AJC.

Joeski said...

Kudos on another well-thought-out and intriguing article, David. As to the subject, since we all know that where there is smoke, there is almost always a fire of some size... but how big is it? I find it really hard to believe that, with all the NFL draft picks that have come out of FSU & UGA while Van Halanger's program has been in place, that it is that terrible. Also, how many former players would say that they felt unprepared for the next level? Why wouldn't the medical professionals associated with the program try to change it?

But still, doubt is creeping in. How did Alabama manage a season with virtually no major injuries? Are the Dawgs just that unlucky? I suppose the next two years will tell.

As to Rodney Garner, I think the thing that everyone is discounting is that it would've absolutely BLOWN UP the recruiting class if he had left right now. Also, if Kirby was so stubborn as to not be able to mend fences, then I have to wonder if he doesn't need a little more seasoning.

Of course, there's another part of me that wonders if Kirby turned down UGA because someone in the know told him that there would be an HC opportunity in short order... and while we were all thinking 2011, why not now-- why not UT?

Anonymous said...

I'm waiting for someone to get their panties in a wad over a very small dig at Kieth Olberman... you know? Like the poor oppressed conservative whose feeling were hurt when Dave said something unflattering about the right-wing windbag Beck.

chDawg said...

Every coach goes through these types of situations. I am amazed by the lack of patience shown considering the run that UGA has had lately. I remember when people were questioning whether Mack Brown would ever win a national title.

Anonymous said...

The S&C thing is a mystery. On the one hand, you have a hall of fame strength coach in Van Halanger, and when he came in they definitely kicked conditioning up a notch with matt drills. The players flat out looked bigger, and played stronger in the 4th quarter, ala the Hob-Nail Boot game.
However, we’re not seeing the results the last few seasons. Injuries seem to have always plagued Richt teams, especially linemen/shoulder injuries, but recently it’s been ridiculous. 19 guys with season-ending injuries in 2008? Why don’t other teams have this problem? Why do our guys get banged up so much and other clubs don’t? Bama’s gone two years without a significant injury that I can think of. What are they doing that we aren’t? Maybe poll the beat writers from those schools, see what is emphasized? It seems like we’re getting tons of “max” numbers out of our S&C camp, but does that produce good football strength? Who cares if a guy can bench 400 pounds if he’s gassed by the second half.


Anonymous said...

"...a growing feeling throughout the South that the AJC sucks."

Hale, FTW!!

By the way, why do I care what WUOG thinks about anything? If I wanted to read what some snot nosed college student had to say about the football program, I'd read the Red and Black. Actually, on second thought, I'd just re-evaluate the steps I'd taken in life that led to me caring about what a college student had to say about the football program.

Will said...

Buck's article reeked with fertilizer too.

The biggest whopper to me in it was that Kirby was going to bring Travis Jones in as DLine Coach.

So Travis Jones, DL Coach for the Saints, is going to leave the NFL to coach the same position in college? For a fellow UGA grad who is younger (and arguably with a shorter resume) than him?

Yeah, and Rex Ryan is considering leaving the Jets to take the DC job...

Anonymous said...

Dave, it sooooo refreshing to read your blog and articles. I agree with Scott especially, "to write columns intended to piss off Dawg fans".

It is so nice to have a "Professional" journalist covering our sports. Thank you Dave.

ctrosecrans said...

great stuff dave, i appreciate it.

it surely sucks that the ajc took chip towers off the dogs and made him do recruiting. i think he's doing a hell of a job at that, but it hurts the dogs coverage. i don't ever go there anymore. sad. but i'm glad you're around dave. more good work.