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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Evans: 'Georgia's Got to Get Better'

I met with Georgia athletics director Damon Evans last week to discuss the football season, the upcoming basketball season and a laundry list of other UGA-related issues. Over the next three days, you can find the complete transcript of that interview here.

In part one, Evans discussed Georgia's football season, his role in evaluating Georgia's assistants, the Bulldogs' brutal scheduling, and his desire for the program to keep pace with the impressive run of success the Bulldogs' chief rivals have enjoyed since Urban Meyer arrived at Florida.

David Hale: This has been an odd season. You're at 9-3, you're heading to a fairly prestigious bowl game, but the outcome of the year is clearly below where expectations were at the beginning of the season. How would you categorize this season? Has it been a disappointment?

Damon Evans: The season started off with some especially high or lofty expectations, particularly for the first time in the history of our program being preseason No. 1. I would look at it as us not meeting some of the goals we did have. Each year we want to win the Eastern Division, which would then catapult us into the Southeastern Conference championship game, so the fact that we didn't make that goal is something that doesn't make us feel good. You don't like to lose to Tech and Florida, of course. This year, I would categorize it as not a significant disappointment, but one in which we didn't meet some of the goals we set for ourselves and that I know our coaching staff had set.

The manner in which we lost some of the games has a huge impact on how people are perceiving this season, so by no means is this season indicative of where we want to be as a program, and we know we need to improve to be able to be highly competitive in this league.

It's a league in which Florida has really raised the bar. Alabama has come in and done some things in quite a quick fashion. We know we have to get better and take a hard look at where we are and continue to make strides. So this year is a year that we're going to look at as, hey, Georgia's got to get better.

DH: There's been a pretty significant backlash among fans this year given the way the season has turned out because Georgia failed to meet some pretty high preseason expectations. Have you noticed in your time here a significant shift in what fans want to see the program accomplish each season?

DE: Our expectations that our fans have in the football world that they have placed on us have changed. I think that's due in large part to the success that Mark Richt has brought to this program. We have been moving up, and when you have success, the higher the expectations become. I like having those high expectations. That's what you want people talking about. You want people to expect great things from the University of Georgia and from our program, so I'm not going to run away from those expectations, nor should we run from those expectations. Our goal should be to try to live up to those expectations and in some cases, exceed those expectations that are before us.

But I do think that sometimes we've got to be realistic, remember that we compete in a very, very competitive conference with some good teams. You look at Florida, this is their second appearance in the BCS national title game in a three year period. LSU has been there a couple of times, and there are other great programs in the league. But I like high expectations. We want to be a great program, not just a good program. I think where we are right now is we've got to transition from the good to the great.

DH: Talking about those fan expectations, particularly in the wake of the Florida and Georgia Tech games, one of the things that has been the hottest topic of conversation has been the fates of some of Georgia's assistant coaches.

When you look at the situation at Auburn, where a very successful coach was let go, or at Mississippi State, where the reigning SEC coach of the year is out of a job, there's certainly not a great deal of consistency in the SEC. Mark Richt is now the longest serving head coach at any institution in the conference. How essential do you feel it is to maintain stability and consistency is from Richt down through his assistants to Georgia's success, and where is the line between stability and sticking to something that isn't working?

DE: I appreciate the fans' interest and concerns because that shows you how much they live and bleed red and black. But what you don't want to do is overreact. I think you've got to take a look at things in totality. Yes, there are some fans out there that are saying certain things about certain assistants, but my philosophy is simple. I don't really get as involved in the assistants to a great extent. I talk to Mark about his staff, but I think Mark has shown he has the ability to put together good staffs. He's done that since he's been here. I think he will work through what he needs to work through, and my only thing is we need to make sure my response to him is that we hold people accountable. They need to take accountability for performance in their job.

I don't think we need to overreact right now in this point in time. I think we need to figure out where we need to get better, what we need to work on. I do believe that stability is good, but stability is only good if you're having success. Stability just for the sake of having stability if things aren't working well, then the stability doesn't matter. But if you're having success, and you continue to have success with that group you have, that's good.

I want to make sure that people are accountable for their job performance, and I'll leave that up to our football coach to do that, but I do talk to Mark each year about what's going on with his staff, and I believe that he's shown over the course of eight years that he's been able to put together a great staff and have success. Now we've got to take this year, which is a learning year, a year to learn and grow from, and see how we respond to some of the things we dealt with this year to see if we respond and grow in a positive manner or we do the opposite. I tend to think we'll respond in a way that we'll get better as a program.

DH: As it turned out, some of the games people might have thought were going to be tough wins for you didn't turn out that way with several programs having down years, but Georgia's schedule for next year looks even tougher than it was this season. Conversely, when you look at the way some other schools, such as the ones in the Big XII, have scheduled their non-conference play, on paper, their schedules haven't been as tough. Is there any thought among you and Coach Richt that perhaps you need to tone down the difficulty level on your schedule moving forward?

DE: I look at it like this: I think we need to be mindful of scheduling, and I do believe that this conference, year in and year out, is one of the toughest if not the toughest conferences in the country, but you said something that's key On paper. When this year started out, this schedule looked very difficult on paper. Arizona State didn't turn out to be what people thought. Auburn and Tennessee were down this year. I don't think LSU finished where people thought LSU would finish.

Each year, you don't know what the outcome's going to be. We've got Louisville or someone on the schedule in the future. I can't tell you if they're going to be good now. When we scheduled Oklahoma State, I couldn't tell you they were going to be a top-10 team. I think what you do is go out there and put together a schedule that we think is fair, that is competitive, that gives us good opportunities to win and have success, but also has some good opportunities to brand ourselves, help us with the polls and things of that nature.

I'm not going to shy away from scheduling good opponents to come here. I think that's important, but I will continue to be mindful of how our schedule in the SEC is. We'll look at that, and I'll sit down with Mark, and we'll go through it, but I'm not going to shy away from people. I see schools around the country playing tough schedules each year. It depends on how your conference falls. This year we had LSU and Alabama from the Western side. That's not going to be the case next year. So I'm just going to sit here and say, in order to be the best, sometimes you've got to beat the best. I don't want to put us in a situation that is not advantageous to us, so I'll be mindful, continue to talk to our coach, but I'm not going to shy away from scheduling people.


Check back tomorrow for Part Two of our inteview in which Evans discusses the numerous off-field problems the Bulldogs have endured this season.

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