My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Looking Back No. 9: The Dawgs Fought the Law

Mark Richt's first news conference of the season began this way: Donavon Baldwin was suspended and nursing an injury following a fight at a downtown bar. Jeff Henson was also suspended following an alcohol-related arrest, his second in less than a year. Michael Lemon had been arrested, too, just weeks after being dismissed from the program following an assault charge. And Darius Dewberry would sit out the start of the season after damaging property at a local hospital.

All of that news came before Richt answered a single question about football.

Fewer than 48 hours before Georgia began fall practice, four members of the team that finished 2007 ranked second in the nation were in trouble with the law. It was far from the only incident. In all, eight players served suspensions this season, three were removed from the team, and numerous others were punished "in house," according to Richt.

It was that Saturday before camp began, however, that offered the most glaring tarnish on what should have been a banner preseason. Georgia began the year as the top-ranked team in the nation, but in Athens and around the country, the talk was all about discipline.

"It's embarrassing," Richt said at that first news conference. "It's sad."

In addition to those mentioned in Richt's opening news conference, Clint Boling was already out for a week with a suspension following off-season legal trouble. Fred Munzenmaier sat out two games, too.

While much of the national media painted Georgia as a group of ne'er-do-wells, Richt tried to handle each situation like a parent.
"I don't believe in throwing a guy under the bus to try to stave off the wolves," he said. "Say what you want, we are still in the business of educating young people to learn how to live life and to get their degrees and move forward. That's my focus."

Unfortunately for Richt, the players didn't take such a thoughtful approach.

Three more Bulldogs found themselves in legal trouble during the season, when Vince Vance was arrested and charged with driving without a license, and Kevin Perez and Brandon Wood were each charged with driving under the influence.

While Georgia's players and coaches insisted the off-field incidents didn't translate to on-field failure, the distractions were evident from the outset of the season. When it was over, it was hard to ignore that not only had the numerous arrests affected Georgia's reputation, they had also affected its record.

"You try hard not to let those things affect you, but when you don't have everybody on the same page, it hurts the team," linebacker Rennie Curran said. "It's not 10 guys that get the job done. You have to have all 11."

Moving forward, athletics director Damon Evans said he and Richt would re-evaluate their approach to dealing with off-field issues for players. Evans said he wanted to see a more proactive approach taken -- educating players about the long-term ramifications of their actions. Stronger penalties for offenders could be in store as well.

"When you get in trouble, you need to realize you're casting a negative light on this institution," Evans said, "and in my eyes, that's major to me, that's major to our alums, and that's major to the people who love the Bulldogs."


Anonymous said...

This is not exactly cheering us up.

David Hale said...

Hey, I never promised it was going to be the BEST stories of 2008, just the biggest ones.

Anonymous said...

...and the law won!