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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Catching Up With... Matt Stinchcomb

Matt Stinchcomb was a two-time All-American offensive lineman at Georgia and played eight years in the NFL. His brother, John, also starred for the Bulldogs and went on to play for the New Orleans Saints. These days, Matt is retired from football, but still provides insight and analysis for Comcast Sports Southeast. I caught up with him earlier this week, and while we discussed this year's crop of linemen, we also managed to hit upon everything from Tim Tebow to Al Davis to Jenny Craig. Yup, Stinchcomb is a real renaissance man.

David Hale: Now that you're not playing, you've been doing a bit of analyst work, talking about the game. Has it been a big challenge for you to switch from playing football to talking about it for a living?

Matt Stinchcomb: It's been pretty extreme. As a player, I didn't have a lot of dealing with the media. When I did, I tried to avoid them, so this is the height of hypocrisy. But I don't really do a lot of interviewing. I just spew opinions without really asking anybody if there's any facts to substantiate them.

DH: You would probably fit in really well with the current offensive line at Georgia, since Stacy Searels doesn't do much in the way of media interaction. Was it that way when you played?

MS: It was never a formal arrangement like that, but I wish that it were. Unfortunately much to my chagrin now, I wasn't very forthcoming and eager to participate in the whole thing. You know, the media has a job to do, but as a player -- if I can put my player hat on -- I just didn't have much to say. But I agree with it. As a matter of fact, when the Denver Broncos didn't do it, I had almost a self-imposed adherence to that policy where it was just like, go interview the quarterback. Those are the quotes people want to hear. I just wasn't much for the media interaction as a player, so I think it's a good idea.

DH: It doesn't seem like the offensive linemen are usually big fans of doing the interviews. For the past few weeks, they've sent Clint Boling out to just tell us, "Vanderbilt is a very good football team, and we're looking forward to the challenge." What's the problem with talking to the media anyway?

MS: As a player, especially as an offensive lineman, the only time anyone wants to talk to them is if they gave up a bunch of sacks or jumped offsides a couple times or they want to ask you about another player. It's rarely about your own play. So all those guys, the fact that they come out and just say they're looking forward to the challenge against Vanderbilt this week, at the end of the day, that's about all anybody expects to hear or wants to hear from these offensive line guys anyway. We are the nameless, faceless rabble of football, and a lot of guys like it that way. I certainly liked it that way.

DH: Is part of it that the media doesn't have many statistics to measure you by?

MS: Most people think the offensive line had a good game if they had a 100-yard rusher, but the truth is, an offensive lineman can have a great game and the statistics may not necessarily reflect that. There is no box score for good offensive line play.

DH: Well, as someone who is in a unique position to judge, how would you rate this year's offensive line for Georgia? They seemed to really take a step forward last week against Tennessee.

MS: I thought it was their best game. I'm not looking at it nearly as closely as the coaches are, but for what they have -- a lot of it is always put through this lens where, oh, they're young and they're inexperienced. Well, they are, but they're doing a pretty good job. I think if you can take off those two labels and look at it objectively, there's some things they do as an offensive line that they do as good as anybody in the conference. They've got some guys that can get out into space and get a hat on a hat as well as any team in the Southeastern Conference.

These guys are athletic, clearly they're intelligent by the fact that they can play about four different positions in the span of one game, and they've acclimated themselves pretty well. Even in that Alabama game, in my opinion, they were asked to basically asked to pass protect for the bulk of that ballgame, and it wasn't exactly a max protect situation, and they did a good job. So that's from an offensive lineman's point of view. I'll always base my opinions on behalf of the big boys up front, but I think an objective observer would probably agree with that.

DH: They have had so many injuries and so much chaos on that line so far this season though. How hard is it for a lineman to develop when you're constantly shifting around like the guys on the Georgia line have this year?

MS: It can be a huge challenge, but all that will pay dividends down the road for these guys because the mantra in the NFL is the more you can do, the more valuable you are. The more you can do, the less expendable you are. So that's huge. That's kept a lot of guys in a lot of high-paying jobs in the NFL for a long time just because they're a Swiss Army knife. You stick them in at center, you stick them in at guard or tackle, and they can get it done.

You see these kids now at Georgia, for a kid like Clint Boling or Vince Vance or even Chris Davis, to be able to bounce around the way they've been able to bounce around -- Kiante Tripp, there's no better example than that guy. To move from defensive line to offensive line to glorified offensive lineman/receiver -- he almost achieved the holy grail for all offensive lineman to maybe one day catch a football, and then injuries drug him back down into the sludge of the offensive line. But it is difficult from a technique standpoint, and that's what makes it that much more admirable to watch these guys play. It's hard to come together as a unit when everybody is playing a different position next to somebody else who's playing a different position and nobody knows where everybody else is going to be. It's hard to kind of gel that way.

DH: You're name is posted a few places around the weight room at Georgia. Were you a big gym rat when you were there?

MS: I was a try-hard guy, but I didn't get the same results as my younger brother did. He was a horse. You look over there for the biggest bench press and the heaviest squat and all that stuff, his name's all over the place and my name has long since been erased. But I was a pretty enthusiastic weight-room guy. I wouldn't say I saw tons of results in my college years. I wouldn't say I practiced the best nutritional habits. I wasn't the type that could just come out of the box and go compete. I definitely had to work at it.

DH: You said you didn't necessarily have the best nutritional habits. After you were done playing, how hard was it to stay in shape without the regimented routine of football to keep you active?

MS: Since you're not as physically active, and you're not getting paid to be over 300 pounds any more, you can go one of two ways -- you can keep inflating or you can strip it off. The best way to do that is to probably stop drinking four glasses of gravy every day, maybe substitute an apple every once in a while instead of a bag of fun-sized Snickers. Some things that some guys -- including me -- had to do to keep their weight on was pretty extreme, and it's amazing once you stop that how the pounds just peel right off. My thing was apples. For about a year, every time I got hungry, I'd eat an apple, and those things are like magic. It's amazing Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers are still in business when you can go to the produce section and suck down some Granny Smiths every time you get a hankering, and next thing you know, you're 80 or 90 pounds lighter -- and you're awful regular, too, man.

DH: That's good to know. On an unrelated subject, one of your former teams has been going through a pretty good amount of chaos lately. How surprised have you been by what a disaster the past few years have been for the Oakland Raiders?

MS: I would say not very, but when I was there it was with Coach (Jon) Gruden and a real veteran group of guys, guys like Steve Wisnewski, Tim Brown on and off at different times on the defensive side of the ball we had some real veteran leadership like Rod Woodson, Eric Allen -- guys that were really accomplished, Pro-Bowl caliber guys. I think that's what made it a more successful formula out there. When you look at it now, they've got a lot of youth it seems like.

From a team standpoint, they've got a ton of talent, and some really good character guys, but as far as true, veteran leadership -- guys with eight, nine, 10 years in the league, guys with Super Bowls under their belt -- that gets you a lot of street cred with anyone, including rookie players. And you just don't see a lot of those guys on that roster right now, and I think that's part of it. For that franchise, the way they go about doing things, they've got to have that type of presence, and I don't think they have it, and they've struggled for a lot of years now and it doesn't seem like that ship is going to be righted any time soon.

DH: You obviously spent a while with the Raiders and even went to a Super Bowl with them. Does it bother you to see all the media criticism of the franchise now and have Al Davis sitting in front of a projector complaining about his former coach?

MS: It does for the guys I still know out there and the people that work for the Raiders. There's a lot more to the Raiders franchise than just the players, the quarterback, the head coach. There's a lot of staff, a lot of employees that are impacted and are employed because there's a franchise out there.

It hurts for them because they're the same good people they've always been, and it's hard to see Al Davis being viewed the way he is now. He was at least respected or revered or feared or whatever, but he was considered in a different light than he is now, and I think that's pretty unfortunate given that he's definitely left his thumbprint on the professional football landscape.

Unfortunately, I think the last couple of years and recent events have really skewed that. He had his detractors before, and maybe some of them justifiably so, but I think it would be unfortunate if he's remembered as a crazy, out-of-touch old man when I don't think that's the case at all. But I think that's how people are viewing him, and I don't think that's a fair or accurate depiction of the franchise or the owner in the aggregate. Maybe in the short term, it's hard to argue against it, but he had a lot of success for a lot of years. But I don't think it's going to turn around -- not with the fundamentals they've employed in the past.

DH: Well, back at the college level, I wanted to ask you a little bit about what's going on around the SEC now. I think the conference has always been lauded for having great defenses, but this year, the offenses around the league have really struggled. Has that surprised you, and do you have any explanation for it?

MS: Tennessee is surprising to me just in general. I thought they had darkhorse potential in the East, and I wasn't unique in that opinion. Boy I wish I'd never have opened my mouth on that one, because I couldn't have been more wrong. They're 0-3 in the conference, and it doesn't look like it's going to get a lot better soon. The common denominator to those offenses is a departure from the previous offensive philosophy yet you still have the same offensive personnel you were recruiting for a previous offensive mind-set that now, in the case of Auburn, is pretty divergent from what you were running in the spread. I think it's pretty fair to say that's a failed experiment.

Tennessee, I don't know where the blame lays. The easiest thing to change I guess in the smallest number of moves is either the quarterback or the offensive coordinator. I think that's just the unfortunate nature of offenses. It may be more expedient just from a human resources standpoint to move one or two guys rather than swap out an entire offensive line or whatever. They just happen to have their heads on the chopping blocks first. You see at Tennessee, they changed the quarterback. At Auburn, they changed the coordinator. I think the SEC puts a premium on defensive play. You look at the Steve Spurrier teams at Florida, even when they were dominant, they had some great defenses. You see it at Alabama right now. They're playing really good defense. Auburn has stayed in ballgames because they have a really good defense.

I think it goes hand in hand. You see some of these other conferences put together unbelievable offensive numbers statistically, but as you learned last year, you take a Hawaii team, and it might be a graphic illustration of a team that was an offensive juggernaut until they played against a team that actually fielded a defense. The Big 12, outside of Texas and Oklahoma -- I guess last year, Kansas played pretty good defense, and that made them pretty unique in that conference. Otherwise, there's just not a whole lot of defense being played. This year's a little different because Texas is playing really good on defense, and so is Oklahoma. But as a whole, I'm an SEC homer from way, way back, so all the other conference proponents and apologists will get all riled up about it, but I think these teams have a great deal of balance on both sides of the ball. It's not very lopsided in one direction or another. That's why when you look at a Texas or Oklahoma, they look like SEC teams because they play both, and they're fun to watch.

DH: You mentioned two things there that I'm curious if you think are related. You said the spread offenses around the league have really not been very successful and talked about the great defenses. Are SEC defenses just too good to allow the spread to consistently succeed?

MS: I think in the SEC more than anything else, the defenses have so much quality depth. One of the things they talked about at Auburn when they implemented the spread -- and first of all, call it my little pet peeve, but I try not to refer to the spread as an offense. You could pass out of the spread, you could run out of the spread -- the spread is just a formation. Every team has got it in their game plan, it's just not their base offensive formation. It's like saying in the NFL, they run a West Coast offense. They say that about every single offense, and they're not all alike. It's almost become this, if you line up in three or four wide and base out of the shotgun, oh, they're a spread team. But West Virginia's spread doesn't look like Florida's spread, doesn't look like Missouri's spread, doesn't look like Texas Tech's spread.

What makes some of those more successful than others -- you look at West Virginia versus Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. It took them a full half to catch up to what it was they were doing offensively, and they almost ran them down. They just kind of ran out of time. But if you play teams that have quality depth and quality players in key areas, if you're facing a team that throws the ball a lot like Texas Tech or Hawaii, and you've got quality depth and the ability to rush the passer with three down linemen, best of luck. Next thing you know, it's University of Georgia vs. Hawaii. I don't even know what the final score was because everybody went to bed at halftime.

So I think the spread in the SEC has its place. I think part of the reason it's been so successful at Florida is because of (Tim Tebow). If they don't have that guy, I don't know what the spread looks like at Florida. They've got tons of talent, no question about it, but it wouldn't function the way it functions now. They've got a pretty unique talent at quarterback. I think that's what helps make it go, and there's not really any other team in the SEC that's doing that. You look around the country and it seems like more and more and more, you look at Penn State. Penn State's running the spread. Who would have thought that?

DH: Teaching some old dogs new tricks, I guess.

MS: It's just kind of very en vogue right now, but in the conference, it's due to quality depth more than anything else. It's certainly not due to a lack of quality athletes you need to do it, I think they just have the type of athletes (on defense) that can make it difficult to do it. And there's only so many guys like Tim Tebow. That's what makes the guy unique -- there's just not that many of them out there.

DH: To me, that actually seems like it's the bigger issue for why those offenses have struggled. Tennessee, Auburn, a bunch of those teams are starting inexperienced quarterbacks and running a new offense. That has to make it tough.

MS: It's a unique set of circumstances. You talk about getting a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback. Jonathan Crompton and David Clawson. Tony Franklin and question mark -- Todd or Kodi Burns. That's a lot to ask. That's a pretty tall order to ask of anybody. Part of Alabama is, they've got a new offensive coordinator, but they've got the most experienced quarterback in the SEC right now in John Parker Wilson. I think that showed up a couple times in the Georgia game. It's a good point. You can't swap out the trigger man and the guy who is loading the gun and expect it to be seamless every year. That's a lot to change.

DH: I wanted to ask you, too, about your annual Countdown to Kickoff charity event you help to organize. You get a bunch of Bulldogs together with fans and the proceeds benefit Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and the Georgia Transplant Foundation. How did you get involved with that?

MS: My brother and I and David Greene wanted to find a way to give back and wanted to help out children and wanted to find a way to build on our experiences at Georgia, and they emphasize community involvement at Georgia, especially with the athletes. Robert Miles, he's the one that coordinates all that, and he plants the seeds in everybody that you can do more than just catch passes and get first downs and get in people's way.

So we wanted to find a way to give back to the alma mater and at the same time to impact pediatric health care. It wasn't like we had all these different ideas we could capitalize on, it was basically, what's our background? Well, we're a bunch of meat-head football players. There are a lot of folks that follow the program, so we wanted to find a way to make it fun for everybody -- for the fans, the players and give them an opportunity to get to know each other and at the same time raise money for some very worthwhile causes, and it's done really well. We've been very, very grateful and appreciative and proud of all the support not only from the players but from the fans. If they don't participate, it's just a lot of wasted paper to print up all those brochures. They're the ones that make it go, and it's been very successful.

DH: Alright, well I'll let you go on this: Since I can't get any of Georgia's offensive linemen to say anything to me about the game this week, I'll ask a former lineman instead -- do you have any predictions for Saturday's game?

MS: Vanderbilt is a very good team, and we're looking forward to the challenge.


Anonymous said...


Great blog, but that's a picture of David Pollack at the top of this post, not Stinch.

DCDawg said...

very entertaining and informative. I went to UGA at the same time as his little brother and he was a great guy and a force on the line, hopefully our current crop can learn from guys like this.

Anonymous said...

I'm the same age as John and actually had the opportunity to hang out with him a couple times in Athens. They don't make many guys like him, just a very special blend of talent and intelligence. Really one of the sharper guys (football or non-football) that I met in 4 years at Georgia.

Glad to see he continues to be involved with the program, he's an incredible asset. Great interview, we need to see more of these... lots of good guys in football. It's a shame the Pac-Man's of the world steal all the headlines.

Anonymous said...

..check that post above, I meant Matt, not John.

David Hale said...

Had to swap out the picture, sorry for the confusion. The problem is that organization is not my strong suit, and when all the photos on your hard drive are labeled things like 07864r.jpg it can get a little confusing as to what you're posting. My bad, and my apologies to Mr. Stinchcomb, who I'm sure is far better looking than David Pollack after all the apples he's been eating.

EJ said...

Wow! What a thoughtful, insightful, and entertaining interview. I know Matt actually had an academic scholarship at UGA, too. He's a sharp guy. They say offensive linemen are the smartest guys on most teams, and the Stinchcomb brothers are good examples of that. ESPN should hire Matt to replace Mark May...

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