About a decade ago, I was covering a college basketball program whose head coach was entering his make-or-break year. The school’s athletics director, I was told later, had one instruction for the team’s publicist as the media guide was being prepared:
“Don’t put the coach on the cover,’ the A.D. said.
He wasn't. In fact, the coach's bio was kept to one page and was tucked behind all the players. A few minutes after the team's final game, the coach was canned.
Ever since then, I’ve probably paid a little too much attention into how teams put together their preseason publications. Like on Monday when my copy of the 2011 Georgia media guide arrived in my mailbox.
Mark Richt isn’t on the cover, but otherwise his presence is hardly played down. Richt’s bio occupies the normal four pages, before any players or staff members, and after the opening section of the guide. There’s a highlighted quote: “He (Richt) is one of only nine head coaches in Division I-A history to record 60 or more wins in his first seven seasons, one of only seven to reach 80 wins in his first eight seasons and 90 wins in his first nine seasons.”
(Last year, obviously, was Richt’s 10th season.)
The “dog tracks” opening section also includes a note that Georgia has the nation’s third-best winning percentage (a record of 96-34) since Richt began as coach in 2001. And Richt’s picture is front and center throughout the guide.
Everyone knows this is a big year for Richt and the future of the program, and things haven't been great the past couple years. But judging by this guide, the people who handle P.R. at Georgia aren't running away from their coach.
A few other quick impressions and notes after leafing through the guide:
- Remember how last year the UGA communications staff rushed to recall the guide from the printer after Damon Evans’ resignation? It chose not to this year: Caleb King and Brent Benedict are still in there. King was ruled academically ineligible last Friday, and Benedict announced he was transferring last month.
- The front cover is white, and features the top five seniors: Brandon Boykin, Drew Butler, Blair Walsh, Ben Jones and Cordy Glenn.
The back cover includes seven players: Aaron Murray, Orson Charles, Trinton Sturdivant, Christian Robinson, Bruce Figgins, DeAngelo Tyson and Tavarres King.
- Richt puts an emphasis on “effort” in the section that provides an outlook for the season. The quote that is pulled and put in bold type says:
“We need to do what we do well and do it full speed. As a head coach, that’s the number one point of emphasis that I am going to watch for. If you don’t finish well and you don’t win those close games, you’re going to be where we were. If you win those close games, you’re going to be where Auburn was. We’ve got to train to have the type of strength and stamina physically to finish well. Then, we’ve got to gain some mental toughness through the summer and through out camp. We’ve got to compete harder.”
- There was some thought that Dave Van Halanger was being shunted aside and would eventually leave when he was replaced as strength and conditioning coordinator. But he’s still in the media guide, with the new title “Director Player Welfare.”
- Among the revamped strength and conditioning staff, John Kasay may have a part-time role, but he has a spot in the media guide, along with a head shot and a four-paragraph bio.
- Jonathan Batson, who lettered with Georgia as a quarterback in 2009, and appeared in one game as a player, is part of the coaching staff now. He holds the title of program coordinator, offense.
Mike Kelly, former reserve and defensive assistant at Alabama, is now at Georgia. He holds the title of program coordinator, defense.
The team also has a new video coordinator, Brett Greene, who spent the past nine years with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
- By my count, the player with the longest bio is Blair Walsh, followed closely by Drew Butler.
- The section on former Bulldogs in the NFL spans eight pages, and now includes a picture of A.J. Green holding a Cincinnati Bengals jersey.
- Two pages are dedicated to the team’s strength and conditioning, mostly pictures. Joe Tereshinski's face is the first you see.
- The two pages dedicated to media coverage of the team (basically, players being interviewed and pictures of media personalities) has a startling omission: I believe Georgia is the only program in America that doesn’t get Erin Andrews on this page. (Mark Schlabach, Bill Shanks, Andy Johnston and Zach Klein – but no Erin Andrews?)
- There’s one page that highlights the walk-ons that have made it at Georgia. Verron Haynes is the most notable, along with J.T. Wall and Billy Bennett. (There might be room for Blake Sailors on here eventually.)
- A page extolling the virtues of Athens notes that Rolling Stone rated it as having the nation’s hottest college music scene, and Sports Illustrated rated Athens second overall, behind Madison, Wis., for the best college sports town.
- Always my favorite page: Famous classmates, and “celebrity fans.” This year, the guide notes that two members of Lady Antebellum (the two guys, not the lady) are UGA graduates. It also points out that Samuel L. Jackson and Larry Fitzgerald attended Georgia games last year. And the big picture of Herschel Walker first refers to him as an MMA star, and then a former NFL great.
Other notable former UGA students: Ryan Seacrest and actors Kyle Chandler, Josh Holloway, Wayne Knight. Or put another way: The guy from American Idol, the coach in "Friday Night Lights," Sawyer from "Lost," and ... Helloooooo, Newman!