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Monday, November 3, 2008

In Defense of the Coaching Staff

First off, in case you haven't already heard -- and that it's at all shocking -- Phil Fulmer has agreed to step down at Tennessee at season's end. What the Vols have endured in two of the past four seasons can officially be considered bad.

What Georgia has endured this year hardly compares.

I get that people are upset. I get that the game was ugly. I get that the loss is embarrassing. But I just don't get how so many people can so quickly turn on Mark Richt.

I'm not going to go on a rant about how good Georgia has been under Richt, how far the program has come since Vince Dooley's heyday, or how consecutive two-loss seasons (which could very well happen) is hardly a bad thing. But I think there has to be a voice of reason here.

Look, I'm not saying the coaches don't deserve any blame. The high number of penalties early, and the costly times when they have happened have undermined a lot of success. The play calling this season has been completely frustrating and inexplicable on far too many occasions. The Bulldogs had no focus heading into the Alabama game, and only the coaches can be blamed for that. The off-field issues -- while hardly Richt's fault -- have been a major embarrassment for the school.

At the end of the day, a lot rests on the coach's shoulders. But here's what doesn't:

-- The schedule is what it is. Florida and Alabama haven't faced nearly as tough a slate as Georgia has this year. That doesn't equate to a 31-0 half and a 35-7 half, but the fact is, a tough schedule takes its toll, and the toll was higher for Georgia than for anyone else in the SEC.

-- The offensive line in insanely young. Stacy Searels has done a remarkable job piecing the line together. The players have put on a good face about the whole situation. But at the end of the day, there isn't a junior or senior on the roster, one of the assumed starters (Kiante Tripp) has been a total loss and two other projected starters (Trinton Sturdivant and Vince Vance) are done for the season. The idea that a team with an offensive line like that would be a top-15 squad -- let alone a team with national title aspirations -- is hard to believe.

-- The sheer number of injuries have been too much to overcome. Coaches and players won't use injuries as excuses, but what has happened this season is ridiculous. Vance, Sturdivant, Kenneth Harris, Tripp Chandler, Bruce Figgins, Tavares King, Kris Durham, Dannell Ellerbe, Rod Battle and Quintin Banks are all among the players expected to play significant roles this season who have missed at least one game due to injuries, and that doesn't even take into consideration the other players who have played through nagging aches and pains.

-- Not that it really mattered in the end, but a freshman kicker is a freshman kicker, and while Blair Walsh has had his moments, he was bound to run into a rough patch. Sure, his two misses were a drop of water in the ocean of a 39-point loss, but the game certainly could have turned out a bit differently had it been closer at the half.

Again, I'm not saying that the coaches had a great game against Alabama or Georgia. There are some things that I just don't understand and can't explain that Bobo and Martinez continue to do over and over. I also agree that it seems like Georgia lacks that killer instinct. They have not shown the ability to put an opponent away and have not shown the will to overcome a bad run of plays against them. I'll offer more critiques in my Grading the Game post later today.

But at the end of the day, the fact that an 11-2 season is something to complain about says all you need to know about the job Richt and company have done. When was the last time Georgia had back-to-back two-loss seasons? When was the last time the Dogs started the season at No. 1? When was the last time the program was consistently recruiting top talent nationally?

The credit for those things belongs as much with the coaching staff as the blame for the poor performances this year and last.

I think the problem a lot of fans have right now is that the coaches and players don't seem as angry as the fans are about these losses. I get that. But I also think we don't see what the locker room is really like. The players and coaches put on a happy face for the media because, frankly, there's not much else they can do. If you blow up, you complain, you point fingers, you end up like Tennessee. You go from 11-2 to 5-7 quickly when the blame starts getting thrown around. The only way to move on successfully is to compartmentalize the loss, refocus on the next game, and pick up as many more wins as you can the rest of the way. Then when it's all over and done with, you figure out where things went wrong. I think we shouldn't jump to any conclusions about the longterm ramifcations of this loss in the immediate wake of the defeat.

Things are bound to look bad in the wake of a 49-10 loss. There's no other way to look at it. But look at what is happening at Tennessee and it's easy to see things could be a lot worse.

It's easy to look at Alabama and Florida and see the take-no-prisoners personalities of Urban Meyer and Nick Saban and assume that's what's missing at Georgia. But those personalities come with a price, and my guess is, at the end of the day, it's one most Georgia fans would rather not pay. And as I remember, Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe last season, and Meyer's Gators dropped four games.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post man. From talking with (sane) others throughout the blogosphere, I don't think anyone wants Richt gone or anything like that--that would be ludicrous. Fans are disappointed with the how of our losses, and how the same symptoms seem to recur at a high (UT last year, 'Bama/UF this year) rate, and trying to diagnose the what that could be the cause. And as far as I've seen discussed (in sane discourse) that 'what' doesn't involve a hint of Richt's dismissal.

It doesn't help that this season began with such promise. And when time levels off we'll realize that the injuries took a grand toll and our coaches would have actually done a remarkable job to get us to an 10-2 season and a decent bowl game (fingers crossed). But this season will be hollow, no matter what...that's the way the cookie crumbles.

By the way, you're doing a great job on the blog.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I would not trade coach Richt for anyone!
Thanks Hale - that's a solid non-bias rant right there

Anonymous said...

It amazes me that so many of the Fire this Coach screaming comes from idiots that never set foot in a UGA classroom (and for that matter, any college classroom). Some people base their mere existence on UGA or any sport teams record. Don’t get me wrong, I love UGA and was sick after the game, but in the end, it is just that and these kids are college kids playing a game. Since CMR has come to UGA, we have not only a good team every year, but an outstanding man to represent us. We need to get over it. We just got beat by a better team. I will take the last 5-year record and be happy! We are a top tier program and will be competitive every year. The glass is half FULL Gentlemen!

BTW- GREAT JOB on the blog!

Anonymous said...

I don't think Richt should be fired. He will be around a long while. He is a very good coach and representative of the university.

That being said, UGA fans are coming to the realization that there are some limitations and tendencies that accompany his coaching style. For instance, his teams have a tendency to not show up mentally on 5-6 games per year. His teams commit high numbers of penalties, especially offsides on offense. His teams do not score touchdowns in the redzone. Every couple years, we have a freshman crisis on the OL. His teams inexplicably do not demonstrate intensity in big games.

I was happy when he brought Bobo in. I also thought at the end of last year he was growing in his motivational techniques. After this year, I feel like I did after the UT game last year.

I feel we have a coach who will consistently finish 2nd or 3rd in the SEC East. Every few years, when UF has a bad team or a frosh QB, we will beat them. Maybe we could even back into a National Championship. However, Richt will not deliver an SEC juggernaut like Meyer, Spurrier or the Bear. I believe Meyer or Saban may do that. It's dissapointing, but I guess that is our lot in the SEC.

We have played one good game all year--LSU. Beating UT and AU don't even count this year.

Justin Hall said...

Everyone knew our schedule was brutal. I thought we'd have 2 losses coming into the season. It's now happened. GT looks a little more difficult than expected and Auburn looks worse. I still think we only have a 2 loss season.

Anyone else notice that Florida only plays outside their home state in 3 games this year?

We play 6 not including the bowl game. Brutal.

Anonymous said...

Get the game out of Jacksonville now!

I am not suggestion that we lost because we play in Jacksonville, but it doesn't help matters. Look at the schedule we had this year, we don't get a home game for over a month? If the game was home and home we could get our schedule set up a little better each year. Jacksonville is a big distraction for the players and coaches. Fans just like it because of tradition and they like to party. The tradition is starting to become we go to Jacksonville and lose, I for one want a change of pace.

GO DAWGS!!!

David Hale said...

Couple quick thoughts after reading your comments:

1.) If there's a petition to get the game out of J-ville, I will be the first to sign. This is COLLEGE football. Play games on campus!

2.) I think it's unfair to compare Richt to Saban, Meyer, Bear, etc. Bear coached in a different era. Would he be a good coach today? Sure. Would he dominate the SEC with this much money and competition involved? No way. Saban has had successes, but look at his career -- it's been great seasons mixed with mediocre ones. Meyer has been in the fortuitous situation of having a very special QB in Tim Tebow who perfectly fits his system.

I admit, the two losses were ugly ones. But before the season, as much as everyone seemed to HOPE for a nat'l title, almost everyone I talked to said they expected 2-3 losses. THEN half the Georgia starters got hurt. And now we're still looking at 2-3 losses and people are mad? It doesn't add up to me.

Finally, it's easy to forget that even the coaching staff is still a developing one. I've had my complaints about Bobo, but the guy is still getting a feel for the job. He's had his moments and, no doubt, he's still learning some lessons. More over, when your O line is so young and inexperienced, sometimes your playbook doesn't go quite as deep as you'd like.

I don't think anyone at UGA is making excuses, and I don't expect fans to accept them, but there is a lot more at work here than bad coaching.

Having said all that, the propensity toward the bad half of football is concerning (going all the way back to that WVU Sugar Bowl) and I plan to look into this a bit further this week.

Thanks for all the great comments guys!

Anonymous said...

David,
I think Richt's a great coach, and I agree with you when you say that injuries and a very young offensive line have caused us problems this year.

But I do have a question that I think you might be able to answer.

My problem with Richt's teams at Georgia is this: they win a lot of games, but they really only play well three or four times a season. Usually their games are marred by penalties, poor execution, missed opportunities and mystifying play calling.

Do you agree with this, and if you do, why do you think that we rarely seem to play up to our ability?

Thanks, and, by the way, I obviously really enjoy your blog.

Anonymous said...

David,

Thanks for the good words. It's nice to have some perspective and to be reminded that it's just a game. That said, it just chaps me to know that a guy like Urban Meyer could win his SECOND MNC in three years or that a guy like Saban could win his SECOND MNC at as many schools.

While I do know that CMR is a wonderful humanitarian with a great heart and a wonderful family, I can't get past being a bit jealous of those schools that hire guys who seem to be absolute jerks and then watch them beat up on our Bulldogs.

I'm not bothered by the two losses; I'm bothered by the manner of the losses just like I'm bothered by dropping two in a row to Tennessee in mind blowing fashion. We've heard it a number of times from a number of places that there's no real vocal leadership on the team like a Tebow or a Spikes or a Greene or a Pollack, and a spark like that can go a long way.

Finally, Texas had to wait a while for an MNC under Brown, and it finally came. When (if?) it comes under Richt, it'll be incredibly sweet. I've waited my whole life (born in December of 1980) to see one, and it can't come soon enough.

Again, great blog and great insights.

Go Dawgs,

Ben

Anonymous said...

I have watched this for a long time, and David's right about many things. Coach Richt isn't going to morph, for better or worse, into a Sabear or Meyer. I'm not sure we'd want him or his wife would want him if he did. I, for the life of me, don't understand how he survived at FSU under Bowden not wanting to pile up scores on teams. I guess he ha too much of it and decided to leave uga. At fsu they always piled up the yards, points and wins. I know this is the SEC, but the teams they had there at fsu from 1990 to about 1999 were superb in all phases of the game, and they embarrassed many teams. I would like to see us diversify our offense a little instead of simply lining up in the I formation all the time.

David Hale said...

Thanks again guys for the kind words on the blog.

I'm no lifelong Bulldogs fan, but I can definitely empathize with the frustrations. As someone who lives and dies with each Eagles game, I've said the same things about why good guys like McNabb lose while jerks like Belichick and Jerry Jones flourish. I've also begged for coaching changes on a nearly weekly basis at times.

I think when it comes down to it, there are a few problems at work here:

1.) Diversity in play calling. I'm willing to cut Bobo some slack in that it's hard to do too much with such an inexperienced line. His playbook is limited. And I'm willing to cut Willie some slack in that, if you can't get a pass rush from your DEs, your hands are sort of tied no matter what you do from there. But having said that, the coaching in this league is simply too good for you to become predictable. Good teams will catch up quickly, and you can't win that way.

2.) Killer instinct. Georgia just doesn't seem to have it, and I'm not sure how you get it. The fact is, they play the worst in their biggest games, they haven't done a great job of putting lesser teams away in games they should win big, and against Alabama and Florida they allowed a bit of adversity to snowball into an avalanche of problems.

3.) Youth and inexperience. This is a talented football team, no doubt, but I think just as it's fair to wonder if they have failed to live up to their talent against Bama and UF, is it possible they've actually just played over their heads in many of the other games?

When it comes down to it, we expect a lot of these kids. Many of the players in key roles are 18, 19 and 20 years old. Think about your mind-set at that age. How well would you have responded if you'd just missed two chip-shot field goals in a huge game? If you'd ran a bad route that resulted in a costly interception? If you spent weeks hearing from fans about how important it was that you did well in one game out of your entire season?

I'm not saying those expectations are unfair or impossible to meet, just that it's a tall order and we should keep that in mind before we throw too much criticism out there.

Anonymous said...

Move the game out of Jax,We get no support from the area in the papers. It is Gatorland

ArchDawg said...

David, I agree with those points, esp. the latter one, after some thoughts and points I've read on other blogs discussing why we've been losing the way we have.

We have a young, inexperienced team. I do believe we played over our heads in some of the games, and when we played teams that were more disciplined and experienced we just got beat...badly. We lack a killer instinct, yes, but things like that can be learned. And I believe we're in the process of learning that. Remember, a lot of our key players were playing in high school this time last year: now they're playing in front of thousands of people in massive stadiums. Even more are seeing their first significant action this year. There are very few players on our team that are 'veterans'. This is kind of a rebuilding year.

That doesn't shake the feeling of the losses, esp. in the way they happened. And I do believe our team is truly disappointed, and that our coaches will find a way to take this team to the next level. Our depth and experience is going to be sick next year--so even if this injury bug wants stay around (knock, knock), it wouldn't have near an effect next year as this one.