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Monday, April 19, 2010

Who's to Blame for Off-Field Issues?

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.)

Thirty-seven.

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.

20 comments:

<--- Dawg Stephen Himself said...

Interesting to see how drugs played a part in many of these incidents. Yes, I do mean the #1 drug. Alchohol. Shame. I have heard from those who work inside correctional facilities that 84% of their inmates were under the influence when committing their crimes.

Talk about using up some tax dollars to house, and rehabilitate, not to mention the lost lives to the ones who happened to be in a car. War on drugs should begin with the devils elixir. Alchohol.

And we would be better off.

Anonymous said...

Great Post David, as always.

NCT said...

I'm not sure what could be done differently. I did read once that the arrest rate among football players was the same as that among the general student body. I'd also like to know how aggressive law enforcement is in Baton Rouge or Lexington or Tuscaloosa or Oxford as compared to Athens and Gainesville.

As I'm sure most of us did, I attended alcohol awareness sort of meetings at various times (through the fraternity, church, whatever). I can't say that any of the "training" I got had any effect on the decisions I made on any Saturday night in Athens. I just got lucky that I didn't get caught.

But then, no one ever told me that my free ride to school was in jeopardy if I ever got caught doing something stupid.

Anonymous said...

I think the severity you mention isn't up to the level of, for instance, a group of kids deciding to hold up a store in an armed robbery, shooting up an apartment building or being caught using a dead girl's (or guy's?) credit card. Although I hate DUI, and it can kill, it is not the same offense IMO as these other types.

Anonymous said...

This is not a program that is out of control, it is a program that is UNDER control. Because Mark Richt disciplines guys who screw up. Do you think he would have even considered NOT suspending a guy who was shown gouging someone'e eyes? Florida, Tennessee, and Alabama let their guys do pretty much anything they want AND local law enforcement plays along with them. We have a head coach that punishes bad behavior and that brings attention to it. The other guys let it slide, which is far worse.

jferg said...

It's a fair question DH. The numbers are staggering.

I think a lot of this stems from a lack of Pride. Pride in themselves. Pride in their team.

And I'm not sure how to bring that back. You cannot hang your "pride" on winning and losing since wins are not guaranteed and losses are. Somehow these guys need an indocrination into the history of Georgia Football and what a true HONOR it is to play Between the Hedges.

FreshmanDawg said...

To me, dismissing Mett from the team because of one alcohol charge makes no sense. Especially considering you could probably find about a dozen UGA football players that would have evidence of alcohol usage posted on facebook. I can't help but think that Richt was hurt that Montez screwed up his second(third) chance, and that led to Mett getting the ax.

David Hale said...

FreshmanDawg -- I'm certain there is more to this story than "one alcohol offense." Best guess: Mett lied to Richt about the severity of the offense, and that was the last straw. But hard to say other than this was not simply a final ruling on the initial charges.

Anonymous said...

Question for someone with more knowledge than myself: Do the same rules apply for a transferring player if he is booted from a team as opposed to voluntarily leaving? Just wondering if Mett would have to sit out a year if he transferred to a I-A school.

Anonymous said...

David, I understand that you're being conservative in your analysis, but I think you go too far in stating the problems we've had. I don't believe these numbers can't be used for comparison to other programs.

Listing players who receive team punishment for unknown reasons is not helpful when comparing to teams like Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Auburn, Alabama, etc. If Richt suspends a player, it gets publically announced and appears in the newspaper. I've seen numerous cases (from following message boards closely) where the other schools listed above used "internal" punishment without ever making an announcement. Prominent players would miss a game or two and it would be attributed to injury, or not explained. Or players would get into trouble and receive no internal punishment. Or players would be arrested and have the charges dropped and it never even came to light; not uncommon in places like Gainesville and Auburn.

Also, it's been discussed frequently, but Athens is much stricter on minor infractions like drinking a beer on the sidewalk. How many of our competitor teams have multiple arrests for drinking beer on the sidewalk or moving violations on a scooter. Do you think that Ga Tech players don't drink beer in public? More likely is that the Atlanta police just have more serious problems on their agenda. The disproportionate number of that type of problem at UGA is indicative of differences in enforcement, not differences in behavior, IMO.

Anonymous said...

37????? In a row?


I apologize for making that comment on a very serious post, but you would be surprised how hard it is for me to find something that I am interested in that actually references 37. I would post a link, but it is the definition of nsfw.

David Hale said...

No worries, Anon. Clerks references are always welcome and encouraged here.

IveyLeaguer said...

Very nice rundown, and fair to the context.

It's clear that Richt is a good disciplinarian and that there's no thuggery going on like there has been at Florida, Tennessee, and other places.

The weapons charge was silly, which is why it was dropped like a sledge-hammer. The Lemon assault was serious, but Richt acted swiftly. Dewberry freaked out and kicked in a gate and paid the price. Robinson freaked out over a girl, couldn't get it together, and he's gone. Mett must have done something serious, but he doesn't seem like a thug.

Thuggery is were the line is drawn, and you're probably talking one case - Lemon.

A small percentage of college kids generally do the kind of things you described. And Athens is famous for its Gestapo-like police. In Athens, much more so than any other SEC town, you have to be very careful as to how you "emerge from an alley".
~~~

IveyLeaguer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joeski said...

David,

I really think that there are two factors in play here that you're not addressing:

1) the 24-7 media cycle. You have to admit that the scrutiny these days is much, MUCH more intense these days than it ever has been before, and as a result, offenses that we would not have heard about in the 70's, 80's, or even 90's are highlighted in glaring relief today.

2) the shift of society in general. As much as it grieves me to admit, we've become a much more lurid and voyeuristic society, and as a result, kids are really, really pushing the limits. And it isn't just the athletes; I'm sure you'd see an increase in alcohol related offenses in the general student population as well.

As always, I think the first comparison that needs to be made is between the percentage of incidents among the athlete population in relation to the percentage of incidents among the regular student population, since it is unreasonable to expect athletes to not act like their non-athletic peers. (While I would hope that they understood the privilege of their situation, I don't think it's reasonable to expect it.) I bet that the numbers are closer than anyone thinks.

Now to address your question: Mark Richt can only spend 20 hours around the kids during the season, less in the off season. While we can hope that he sets a good example that the kids will follow, I think it's ridiculous to expect to expect him to exert thorough control over each and every kid who passes through our program given those limitations. We really can only hold Coach Richt responsible for how he reacts to situations as they arise, and in that area, I certainly have been completely happy.

Every program is going to get a few kids who stray, and maybe even a few 'bad' kids. The higher-profile programs are going to get more. This is inevitable. The true measure of quality is how those programs deal with the messes that result.

I still can say "It's Great To Be A Georgia Bulldog."

Anonymous said...

I think I said this here previously (or maybe only in my mind) - could a major university field a competitive team if it committed itself to only take young men who were committed to not use any alcohol. not guys who were willing to abstain, but guys who were committed. Tell them all from the beginning 'football players at the University of Georgia don't drink. it' bad for you body and we need your body to be far superior to everyone else. it's bad for your brain and we run the toughest offense and defense and you need to be smart to understand it. it's bad for your life and we want your life to be the best it can possibly be'. Just put it out there and let it be known and then we can have the pick of any kid who really believes it. Just sayin

David Hale said...

Anon 7:31 -- I think the answer to your question is BYU. They do exactly that and generally field a competitive team. However, I've listened to some very interesting interviews about recruiting with BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall in which he explains that his potential pool of recruits each year is roughly 30 kids and he has to hit on almost every one of them.

Anonymous said...

Guys I hate to say it...but we only hear about a fraction of the things that could make headlines... or stupid stuff that these players could've been arrested for.... ESPECIALLY while out drinking. I know, I've bartended in Athens for quite a while. But then again it's the same at many schools I'm sure.

Richt IS doing a good job IMO. As far as Mett, he must have done something really screwed up.

AppleDawg said...

We have had players going out ALL DURING the week getting blackout drunk from Richt's first year. I saw them first hand falling over drunk the Thursday night before big home games.

I have also seen certain OL knocking people out outside Boar's Head on several occasions and the incidents never got publicity

Players feel that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want and get away with it

Anonymous said...

During the Donnan days the players were way out of control..drugs, fighting, pandering...you name it. BUT same par for course at other schools as well. Either way it's unacceptable. And yes...only a FRACTION of things that go on get found out about, sad to say.

Coach Richt obviously has had a positive influence on this team all things considered....but more can be done...

Players need to wake up and understand that everything they do will get accounted for so they need to make sure it's something that's positive for themselves, the team and the university. The coaches can only do so much, and it's obvious the punishment is not worth the risk.