Has Mark Richt lost control of his program?
I'm not asking that question for my benefit. I'm asking it because the question has either been posed to me by people outside of the program or I've heard it said by Georgia fans enough times that I think it warrants exploration.
With the dismissal of quarterback Zach Mettenberger yesterday, the laundry list of off-field incidents grows by one more -- although perhaps only insofar as an incident we already knew about may have been a bit more serious than we first thought.
Since February of 2007, I count 37 different incidents (some of which were one event in which multiple players were involved) in which a Georgia player was arrested and charged with a crime or served some form of punishment in terms of a suspension by Richt for a violation that did not involve a criminal act. (*All of which I list below if you care to read through them.)
If you go by the sheer numbers, that's a whole lot. And when it comes to public perception, little else matters beyond those aggregate numbers.
Of course, for those of us who occasionally enjoy firing up more than two or three brain cells to contemplate a situation, there is obviously much more to the story.
In Mettenberger's case, we don't quite know yet what happened. Obviously the facts we do have -- five charges stemming from a situation at a bar in Valdosta -- show some very poor decision-making by the quarterback. Beyond that, it's all conjecture. So let's set that aside for now.
Of the 37 incidents since 2007, here's the breakdown in terms of severity:
8 minor alcohol incidents, including public intoxication, underage consumption and possession of a fake ID.
5 DUIs. Of the five, however, one charge (against Clint Boling) was reduced and did not result in a conviction.
1 weapons charge. This came against Jeremy Lomax and was dropped completely.
7 were incidents involving an assault of some sort, although two of those belong to Montez Robinson. Two more -- charges against Trinton Sturdivant and Justin Anderson -- were also dropped. Another involved a recruit, Dexter Moody, who had not yet arrived on campus and was not charged with a crime.
6 were minor driving violations -- emerging from an alley and what not.
2 were for destruction of property, including one -- Darius Dewberry's run-in at St. Mary's -- that did not result in criminal charges and was handled internally.
8 were cases in which Richt levied discipline against players for violations of team rules that did not stem from any legal charges.
And in one case -- Taxi-gate -- Georgia's reputation took a hit, despite the fact that no criminal charges were filed against any players.
(And if you're doing the math, the lone missing incident is the most recent situation with Mettenberger.)
So let's put that into more context: Of the 37 incidents since 2007, only 13 would be something most of us would consider a particularly serious charge -- weapons, assaults, DUI. Of those, charges were dropped or reduced in four instances and in Moody's case, he was neither officially a UGA player, nor were charges filed against him.
So now we're looking at eight serious charges in a little more than three years -- four of which were DUIs and two of which were assaults all pegged to the same player (and one whose background adds further complexities to any judgment we might pass).
That's seven players who found themselves in serious trouble. Of those seven, the three who were charged with assault were all dismissed from the program. The four charged with DUIs all served suspensions, and in the cases of Jeff Henson and Donavon Baldwin, were dismissed from the program upon a second infraction.
(So... seven players charged with serious crimes in three years. Given that there have been roughly 220 players -- scholarship and walk-on -- pass through the program in those three years, that's roughly 3 percent who have gotten into significant trouble. I'd be curious to see how that correlates to the student body as a whole.)
And as I noted, on eight occasions, Richt levied punishment upon players whom the public never would have known were in trouble otherwise.
Seven players were involved in more than one "incident" (assuming you're counting Mettenberger's arrest and dismissal as separate), and of that group, four were kicked off the team permanently. In addition, Akeem Hebron served a year's suspension and spent that time at GMC, Bruce Figgins sat out six games -- and eventually redshirted for the season -- and the final player arrested twice, Vince Vance, was only charged with two minor traffic citations.
In fact, of the 28 players listed in incidents below, seven did not finish their careers at Georgia, one (Hebron) served a year's suspension, and four others were essentially cleared of any wrongdoing.
So while the program may be taking a hit, it certainly doesn't appear like that has been caused by a lack of consequences dished out on Richt's part. He has punished players, and I fail to see any instances -- with the possible exception of Montez Robinson's first two arrests -- in which additional punishment would have been necessary or possible.
Of course, this doesn't include academic issues like the ones that plagued Paul Oliver or John Knox. And it assumes that incidents that resulted in in-house punishment but not arrests were not of grave significance. And, obviously, these are only the things we know about -- the ones who got caught, so to speak. And it doesn't include stuff like THIS.
If you look at Florida -- a comparable program -- the Gators have had their fair share of arrests, too.
But if you look at how those schools stack up against others, it's also pretty clear that those aggregate numbers are higher than they should be.
So I ask… is this enough to consider Georgia a program out of control? And does that even matter? Are the simple problems that come with bad publicity enough to be of serious concern? (And before you answer that, ask yourself what you, as a Georgia fan, think of the discipline at places like Florida and Tennessee, and how it is you came to those conclusions.)
I've read arguments that Richt has failed to make his players understand the consequences of their actions. But what more can he do? Robinson was on probation, had a restraining order against him and knew that one more issue would cost him his scholarship. And he screwed up anyway. Mettenberger had a shot at becoming the starting quarterback, and he still screwed up. How much more can two players have at stake?
I've read that Richt is simply recruiting the wrong types of players. I'm not even sure what it means, though it strikes me as having some particularly ugly possibilities. But the truth is, Robinson and Mettenberger couldn't come from more divergent backgrounds. Robinson grew up in foster care and came from a high school in Indiana. Mettenberger comes from a strong family background, his mother actually works in the football offices, and he grew up down the road in Watkinsville, a lifelong Georgia fan. Both got in trouble. And if you look at the list of incidents during the past three years, it includes the names of rich kids and poor kids, black kids and white kids, veterans and freshmen. So who is this perfect group of athletes Georgia should be pulling from?
I don't know the answers, but I do hear the criticism. I would submit that, given these numbers, Georgia may want to consider reviewing the training it does with players regarding alcohol and traffic issues. I would also suggest that, given the number of incidents that occurred concurrently, perhaps the players should be doing a bit better job of policing each other as well. And the scooters -- that's another issue altogether.
I'd also be curious, if you think Richt has failed in his role as head coach, mentor or disciplinarian, what would you suggest he could have done differently? And might your opinion change any if Georgia had gone 11-2 last season instead of 8-5?
I don't mean that to sound condescending to anyone upset about the situation either. I honestly would like to know.
Because it's easy to say that 37 off-field incidents in a three-year time span is too much. But it's a trickier question to start asking why it has happened and how it can be prevented in the future.
List of Off-Field Incidents Since 2007
(* I can't promise I didn't miss any, but this is the most comprehensive list I could come up with.)
Feb. 25, 2007 -- Linebacker Akeem Hebron arrested and charged with underage possession of alcohol. Suspended two games.
Apr. 26, 2007 -- Linebacker Akeem Hebron arrested a second time and charged with underage possession of alcohol. Removed from team, but returned after a year at GMC.
Nov. 26, 2007 -- Snapper Jeff Henson arrested and charged with DUI. Suspended for Sugar Bowl.
March 23, 2007 -- Tanner Strickland arrested and charged with possession of fake ID. He was not suspended.
June 10, 2007 -- Blake Barnes and Tripp Chandler arrested and charged with open container. Barnes was also charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor and Chandler with underage consumption. Both served a one-game suspension, and Barnes later transferred.
May 25, 2007 -- Walk-on defensive tackle Tripp Taylor was arrested on assault charges.
July 18, 2007 -- Tailback Caleb King arrested and charged with operating a scooter without a license.
July 30, 2007 -- Tight end NeDerris Ward arrested and charged with operating a scooter without a license.
Jan. 20, 2008 -- Defensive back Donavon Baldwin arrested and charged with driving under the influence. He was suspended to be suspended for the start of the 2008 season.
Jan. 20, 2008 -- Fullback Fred Munzenmaier arrested and charged with underage possession of alcohol. He was suspended for the first two games of the 2008 season.
May 14, 2008 -- Left tackle Clint Boling was arrested and charged with DUI. He was suspended for two games, but the charges against Boling were later reduced, as was the suspension -- to one game.
June 3, 2008 -- Defensive end Jeremy Lomax arrested and charged with speeding and carrying a concealed weapon. He was cleared of all charges and was not suspended.
June 28, 2008 -- Linemen Trinton Sturdivant and Justin Anderson arrested and charged with simple assault for touching a pregnant woman's stomach. All charges were eventually dropped against both players.
June 28, 2008 -- Defensive end Michael Lemon was charged with felony battery after a fight at an off-campus party. He was dismissed from the program by Mark Richt -- later being arrested again in Athens -- but played a year at GMC and is now a member of the NC State football team.
Aug. 2 2008 -- Defensive back Donavon Baldwin and linebacker Marcus Dowtin are both involved in a fight at a downtown Athens bar. Dowtin served an internal punishment and was not suspended. For Baldwin, it was his second off-field incident in less than a year. He was suspended indefinitely, eventually deciding to leave the team in what Richt dubbed a mutual decision. No charges were formally filed against either player.
Aug. 2, 2008 -- Snapper Jeff Henson is charged with public indecency after he was found urinating in public in downtown Athens. This was his second charge in less than a year as well, and he was dismissed from the program by Richt.
Aug. 5, 2008 -- Linebacker Darius Dewberry is suspended for the first two games of the season after Richt announces he was involved in damaging property at Saint Mary's Hospital when he went to visit teammates Baldwin and Dowtin there the previous weekend.
Aug. 20, 2008 -- Tight end Bruce Figgins is benched for the entirety of Georgia's opening game for what Richt called a violation of team rules. He played the following week.
Oct. 19, 2008 -- Defensive tackle Brandon Wood is charged with driving under the influence and receives a two-game suspension from Richt.
Oct. 19, 2008 -- Lineman Vince Vance is arrested and charged with driving without a license. No suspension is levied, as Vance was already out for the season with a knee injury.
March 17, 2009 -- Mark Richt revokes the scholarship of recruit Dexter Moody after the player threatened at teacher at his high school.
May 8, 2009 -- Defensive end Justin Houston is suspended for two games for a violation of team rules, while tight end Bruce Figgins lands a six-game suspension, also for violating team rules. Wide receiver Tony Wilson was rumored to be involved in an incident as well, but he was instead given a medical disqualification and did not return to the program. He recently joined the football program at Bethune-Cookman and said the incident at Georgia involved him getting into a physical altercation with a member of the coaching staff.
Oct. 13, 2009 -- Cornerback Vance Cuff is arrested and charged with operating a scooter with a suspended license and the now infamous charge of "emerging from an alley." He was suspended for one game by Richt, but did not play for the next several weeks.
Oct. 25, 2009 -- An arrest warrant was issued for linebacker Rennie Curran, who was charged with failing to pay parking fines and theft by taking after he moved his scooter, which had been booted by traffic police. Curran cleared up the incident, paid a fine and was not suspended.
Oct. 28, 2009 -- Offensive lineman Vince Vance is arrested for the second time in the past year for driving without a license. Richt says Vance had a learner's permit, but not a proper driver's license.
Nov. 19, 2009 -- Lineman Jonathan Owens is arrested and charged with driving a motorcycle without a license.
Dec. 4, 2009 -- Defensive end Montez Robinson is arrested and charged with misdemeanor simple battery and felony criminal damage stemming from two separate incidents -- one involving pushing his girlfriend and one involving smashing a parking light on her car. He was suspended for two games.
March 7, 2010 -- Quarterback Zach Mettenberger is arrested outside a bar in Valdosta and charged with five misdemeanors, including underage consumption and possession of false identification.
March 31, 2010 -- A police report is filed by several UGA students claiming they were harassed and assaulted in a taxi cab by four Georgia football players. It was later revealed that only one player was involved -- running back Dontavius Jackson -- and he attempted to play peacemaker in the situation.
April 4, 2010 -- Montez Robinson is arrested for the third time in the past four months, again for misdemeanor simple battery of the same woman. He is immediately dismissed from the program.
April 18, 2010 -- Mettenberger is dismissed from the team for an undisclosed violation of team rules. UGA confirms the dismissal is not related to a new arrest.