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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday Quick Links (2/28)

This will be the only post for today, but here are a handful of links to tide you over for the weekend...

-- First off, in keeping with the tradition of the past two days, I've got to wish a happy birthday to my dad, who no doubt will celebrate by doing some maintenance on the house or possibly washing the cars. Although I'm sure there will be a dinner at a Mexican restaurant mixed in there somewhere.

-- Who wants to set the over/under on how many more times we'll see this story in the next 10 years: Quincy Carter was arrested Friday and charged with DUI and possession of marijuana.

-- Georgia's assistant coaches got a bump in pay. While Searels, Bobo and Garner got a measurable increase, none are making Monte Kiffin money, nor should they expect to in the near future. While a few other schools -- like UT -- have increased pay for assistants, Damon Evans doesn't seem too concerned with following the trend.

"We want to keep up with the marketplace. Three institutions don't setthe marketplace from my standpoint. They have to do what they feel isappropriate for them, but what I like to do is look at the big pictureand see where everyone is big picture and ask, where is Georgia in thatmarketplace: Lower, middle or upper? Wherever we are, do we feelcomfortable with where we are? That's the question I have to answerevery day. I tend to believe that we have kept our coaches in a goodposition in the marketplace." -- Damon Evans, from our interview earlier this month.

-- Georgia baseball got off to a strong start for their weekend series in Arizona.

-- According to the AJC, Georgia has made an offer to Joe Montana's son for 2010.

-- The Red & Black had a good story on Friday about a Georgia gymnast who might be the Gym Dogs' answer to Tim Tebow.

-- Malcolm David Kelly, who plays Walt on "Lost" says he'd like to return to the show full time. I hope he does because, given all the time they spent developing his character in Season 1, it would be a shame to leave that story as a dead end.

-- I linked yesterday to a story by Jim Sheeler from the Rocky Mountain News, which I'm hoping many of you took the time to read. Yesterday, he posted a column discussing the demise of his newspaper and the legacy it will leave behind. I'd suggest adding this to your weekend reading list, too.

I also had two items I meant to link to yesterday, but forgot...

-- Here's a run down, with full video, of the 20 strangest celebrity interviews of all time. If I worked in an office, this might be exactly the type of thing I'd waste my entire Monday morning looking at.

-- And finally, this story happened to catch my eye on Thursday: Texas retired the jersey of Kevin Durant, who played just one season in Austin and didn't even lead the Longhorns to the Final Four.

First off, I'll say that Texas supposedly has a tradition that if someone wins national player of the year honors, he automatically gets his jersey retired. OK, that's fine. But I have trouble getting behind the idea of hanging a jersey in the rafters of a player who didn't a.) win or b.) come close to graduating.

Of course, the obvious name that popped into my head after reading this was Matthew Stafford. Like Durant, he came to school with big expectations, managed to take Georgia to its highest end-of-season ranking in nearly 20 years and helped the Dawgs land a preseason No. 1 for the first time ever. He etched his name pretty high up on the Dawgs' career and single-season passing records and he won a bunch of games.

In the end, however, he never won the big one, and he didn't stick around for four years. So... would you ever consider retiring Stafford's jersey?

And continuing on that train of thought... only four Bulldogs have ever had their jersey retired, and none since Herschel Walker.

So, who else do you think should have their jersey number forever hanging above the field rather than being worn on it? David Greene? David Pollack? Hines Ward? Let's hear your thoughts.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Leslie Done For Year

From UGA Athletics...

University of Georgia basketball player Travis Leslie will not participate with the basketball team the remainder of the season in order to concentrate on his academic curriculum.

Leslie, a freshman from Decatur, has played in 26 of Georgia's 28 games this season, starting in four. He currently averages 6.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. He scored a season-high 23 points against Loyola-Chicago in the second game of the season.

"I want to apologize to my teammates, my coaches and the Georgia fans that have supported us, Leslie said. I just lost focus on my schoolwork, and I hope that I can get back on track as I concentrate all of my time and energy on academics."

Video Blog: Joe Cox

Here's some video with Joe Cox. Of note, that Michael Moore who chimes in at the beginning when Cox is asked what his biggest weakness is. Moore's answer: "His red hair."

Friday Links (2/28)

Couple quick things before we get to the links...

-- First, a happy 18th birthday to my brother, Stephen. Remember, kiddo, you can be tried as an adult now.

-- Second, unless there is some breaking news over the weekend, I probably won't post Saturday or Sunday. I've got a few things on tap for next week, however, including my much-discussed yet never completed mailbag. So... if you've got some burning Bulldogs questions or just want to see your name in electronic print, send along some questions to or post them in the comments section here, and I'll see what I can do about finding you some answers.

Now, to today's links...

-- Here's some video of Knowshon Moreno discussing his experience at the NFL combine and his time at Georgia. I have no doubt Knowshon is going to be a great pro, but I'm excited to see how he develops his media savvy.

-- ESPN draft experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay debate the merits of selecting Matthew Stafford first overall in April's NFL draft.

-- And while you're watching ESPN video, you can't go wrong with a little true or false with Rickey Henderson.

-- The Sporting News has Stafford falling all the way to No. 10 in its latest mock draft.

-- Sports Illustrated's Peter King writes that Stafford learned some valuable lessons from Saints QB Drew Brees.

-- Jeff Owens has a Q&A with Trinton Sturdivant in his latest blog post.

-- Chris Low looks at five SEC newcomers who could have a bit impact in 2009, including Georgia's Marlon Brown.

-- Georgia Sports Blog should really have some travel agency sponsors, because they're quite helpful when making your football vacation plans.

-- Last night's win over Kentucky was huge for the Lady Dogs, and they have Ashley Houts' career night to thank for it.

-- The Athens Banner-Herald's Roger Clarkson says Georgia's interim head coach, Pete Herrmann, is hoping to keep coaching somewhere in 2009.

-- Meanwhile, the AJC's Chip Towers has a great piece looking at what the rest of Georgia's current assistants plan to once the season ends and they are -- in all liklihood -- unemployed.

-- In these tough economic times, the McDuffie Mirror says Georgia baseball is a sound investment of your entertainment dollars.

-- I highly recommend Jeff Schultz's blog post about the changing face of Georgia State's athletics program.

-- Meanwhile I can't exactly call Mark Bradley's latest column particularly informative, but it will no doubt fire up the message board commenters.

-- Isn't it odd that 30 Rock's Tina Fey was a dead ringer for Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin three months ago, and now the next big Republican hope happens to do a fantastic impression of 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer? If this is becoming a trend, then I'm now crossing my fingers that I can vote for a conservative Judah Friedlander in 2012. Anyway, I mention "30 Rock" because I was having the exact same conversation with a friend the other day that Newsweek discusses in this article.

-- I didn't get a chance to watch "Lost" until yesterday afternoon, but I think it was probably the best episode of the season so far and added a lot of new wrinkles to a plot that, frankly, I thought was getting a little dull this year.

Anyway, here are a bunch of Lost links for your perusal (Warning: spoilers from last week's show are included, but none from future episodes as far as I can tell): The Newark Star-Ledger's Alan Sepinwall agrees that the Locke episode was fantastic, in large part to the great Terry O'Quinn... Zap2It thinks Evangeline Lilly (Kate) could be leaving the show, but Lilly's reps deny it... The Big Lead offers some thoughts on the show including asking when is everyone?... And of course, I was sad to see another "The Wire" alum meet his demise.

-- And finally, another nail in the coffin of the newspaper business: The Rocky Mountain News, Colorado's oldest newspaper, printed its final edition today. This is exceptionally sad to see, although most observers had seen it coming for a long time.

As a tribute to the Rocky's last day, I wanted to link to this story it ran in November 2005 that details the role of Marines whose job it is to both inform families when a loved one is killed, but also to help them through the grieving process afterward. The story won a Pulitzer Prize for both the writer and the photographer, and I don't have any reservations in saying it is probably the single best bit of feature writing I've ever seen (not to mention that it gives you an even greater appreciation for the tremendous sacrifice those in our armed forces have made).

If you think you'll have a half-hour or so this weekend, do yourself a big, big favor and print this story out, grab a box of Kleenex and read it from start to finish. You won't regret it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lady Dogs Snap Losing Streak

The Lady Dogs notched a much-needed win in Lexington on Thursday, snapping a five-game losing streak -- the longest of Andy Landers' career at UGA -- and keeping alive their fading NCAA tourney hopes. Here's the wrap-up from UGA Athletics, including notes on several end-of-season events worth considering...

Ashley Houts poured a career-high 26 points -- including 12 of Georgia's final 13 -- to lead the Lady Bulldogs to a 61-57 win over Kentucky at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday night.

"It was a gutty performance," Andy Landers said. "We needed someone to gut it out and Ashley did just that. The most impressive piece of it was that they were literally dogging her from end to end trying to keep the ball out of her hands most of the night. She had to work hard just to get the ball and then get it up the floor."

Porsha Phillips added a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Angel Robinson grabbed 11 board and chipped in nine points.

With the win, Georgia improved to 16-12 on the season and guaranteed the Lady Bulldogs will finish with a winning record for the 30th straight season under Landers. Georgia is one of only four schools in the nation to record a winning record every season since women's basketball came under the auspices of the NCAA with the 1981-82 season.

The Lady Bulldogs led the entire contest but that did not prevent a great deal of second-half drama. Kentucky pulled within two or one four times, but Georgia answered each threat to stay ahead.

After not hitting a three-pointer throughout the game, the Wildcats made consecutive threes trim the margin to 59-57 with 10 seconds left. Houts calmly sank a pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game and seal the win.

Houts hit 8-of-9 free throws in the final 61 seconds and played all 40 minutes for the ninth straight contest.

Georgia will host Florida in the regular-season finale on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Stegeman Coliseum. Co-captain Danielle Taylor, the lone senior on the Lady Bulldogs' roster, will be honored in pre-game ceremonies.

There will be several promotions held in conjunction with the contest, including: Camper Reunion Day, all campers are invited to attend the game and parents receive free admission; UGA Student Social, the first 500 students will receive free pizza and "Beat Florida" T-shirts and students may register to win prizes throughout the games; Faith Day, fans will receive $1 admission when they present a church bulletin; and Youth League Day, there will be free admission for youth league teams wearing their uniform and registered with the Lady Bulldog Basketball Office by February 27th.

Thursday Football Notes (2/26)

Here are a handful of stories left over from yesterday's media session with the football team....

-- When Joe Cox competed at the Elite 11 camp alongside some of the nation's top passers, he knew his game didn't match some of the big-armed talent that surrounded him. Still, he managed to find his niche.

Each day the camp held an accuracy drill, where the quarterbacks had to hit a series of flags planted at various points around the field. Cox won the competition nearly every day.

"That's always been something I've had to pride myself on because I don't have the best arm and I'm not a scrambler," Cox said. "That's how I get by."

The deadly precision helped Cox make a name for himself amid a crowd of stronger throwers, and not much changed once he arrived at Georgia.

As a backup to Matthew Stafford for most of the past three years, Cox spent his days tossing sharp passes between the jersey numbers of downfield receivers running with the second-team offense, while the cannon-armed Stafford wowed onlookers with 70-yard bombs.

That big arm now has Stafford poised to be the first player selected in April's NFL draft, however, and Cox is ready to step into the lead role in his fifth season at Georgia, bringing a clearly different style to the position. But while Cox admits he probably won't have jaws dropping on the practice field, he doesn't expect much to change on game day.

"Matthew has an incredible arm, but it wasn't like we were running plays that only he could make that throw," Cox said. "All the plays that we run, all the guys here can make those throws."

While his arm never matched Stafford's, Cox hasn't had much trouble earning the respect of the players around him during his first four seasons at Georgia. Like he did at the Elite 11 camp, his precision, his attention to detail and his energy helped him stand out in the crowd.

"Joe has fun when he's out there," wide receiver Tavarres King said. "He just lifts everybody up in the huddle, and that does a lot for you when you're fatigued, and you're tired. Joe just has that it' factor."

Under Stafford, Georgia's passing game was among the most dynamic in the SEC. Cox probably won't engender the same amount of oohs and aahs when he steps on the field this year, but he's not concerned. The style of play won't change, he said, and the Bulldogs' productivity has a chance to be even better.

"I definitely think we can do a lot of things this year because of the talent that we have," Cox said. "If everybody keeps working like they have been working and we have certain guys step up, including me, I think we can do great things this year."

-- Considering he led the SEC in receiving, it's not like A.J. Green didn't command plenty of attention from opposing defenses during his stellar freshman season in 2008. But for all Green's talent, it was hard to ignore Mohamed Massaquoi, the standout senior, on the other side of the field.

Both receivers topped 900 yards last season, and the duo made it nearly impossible for defensive coordinators to slow Georgia's passing game. This year, however, the task of intimidating defenders will fall solely on Green, who said he'll be lining up in a few new places in order to keep the opposition on its toes.

"Just the offense switching me off the ball, putting me in motion a lot, stuff like that," Green said. "I think I'm just going to be all over the place this year. Not just a Z. I'll be the Y, the X, just everywhere."

Of course, before he gets back to tormenting cornerbacks, he needs to get healthy. Green said he's feeling stronger, and he has actually added 12 pounds to his frame since arriving at Georgia he weighs in at 207 pounds now but with a nagging groin injury still lingering, he still isn't guaranteed to be a full participant in spring practice.

"I'm still limited, but it's getting much better," he said. "I can run full speed now without feeling it, but I'm not changing direction."

-- Linebacker Rennie Curran has spent some time reflecting on the missed opportunities of the 2008 season, and he's convinced the solution to the team's problems isn't too complicated.

Excessive penalties and poor technique caused numerous headaches for the defense a year ago, and Curran said fixing those issues for 2009 is simply a matter of focusing on the fundamentals early, so players are already in the habit of doing them correctly down the road.

"Building a solid foundation that will hopefully last us through the entire season, doing things like tackling right, being disciplined, not getting offsides and things like that that killed us last year," Curran said. "We need to start off correcting those things and making sure they're not an issue."

So far, Curran said, he's happy with the early results. Veterans are being more hands on with the younger players, and those players have been willing to learn.

"It's guys not just wanting to be the cool guy, but everybody being on the same page and wanting to work hard," Curran said. "We've got a lot of hungry guys, a lot of freshmen that are stepping up and doing big things in mat drills. When they're in the weight room, they're really looking impressive."

-- Makiri Pugh was realistic entering his freshman season, hardly expecting to land a starting job. Still, he figured he could be a key contributor on special teams and find his way on to the field for a handful of defensive snaps each week.

Instead, his hopes were dashed before his season began. Pugh injured his ankle in the first week of fall practice, and he spent the rest of the year playing catch-up an afterthought on the depth chart, landing a redshirt designation and no playing time.

"It was really tough," Pugh said. "I had to mature quickly in a different way than some of the guys who were actually getting on the field last year. I had to learn how to be a better teammate while I couldn't be on the field."

Pugh said the time he spent watching from the sidelines helped him learn some important lessons. He said he worked on his body language and demeanor and learned to be more active even if he wasn't on the field.

This year, those lessons will be put to better use. He figures to be in the mix to land a job at safety, but will also be in competition for snaps as a nickelback and even has an outside shot and earning the job at the short corner position vacated by Asher Allen.

"It's going to be exciting to get in there and compete for positions," Pugh said. "I couldn't really ask to be in much of a better position as far as guys having left and there being open spots for other guys to step up and be ready to play. We've got a lot of room for improvement and a lot of room for some of us younger guys to step in and make an impact this year."

Catching Up With... Corvey Irvin

I had a chance to chat with one of my all-time favorite talkers earlier this week when I caught up with Corvey Irvin, fresh off his appearance at the NFL combine. Corvey ran the 40 in 4.9 seconds and bench pressed 225 pounds 25 times, and he said the scouts seemed pretty impressed with his skills. Here's the full transcript of our conversation...

Hale: You just finished up at the NFL combine. What was that experience like?

Irvin: The combine was great. It was great for me, a great opportunity to increase my stock and get my name out there a little bit more. I went to the Senior Bowl, so I kind of knew what to expect going into the combine, but it was a great place, a good atmosphere being around all those big-name guys and meeting them face to face and having a great time.

DH: Your career path was a little different than a lot of guys there, and a year ago you weren't even expecting to be a starter at Georgia. Was a lot of what you were doing out there just about making a name for yourself for scouts and coaches who don't know a whole lot about Corvey Irvin?

CI: Coming from GMC, two years there, then going to Georgia and becoming a starter there in my last year, doing well for myself and kind of blowing up and getting invited to the Senior Bowl and the combine, it's just showing all the scouts and the coaches that I can compete, that I can play with the best of them, the top dogs at the combine. Just showing everybody that I want the chance because I deserve to be there like everybody else.

DH: What kind of feedback have you gotten from the scouts at the Senior Bowl and combine?

CI: The feedback has been great. They love me. They say that, knowing that I only went to Georgia for two years, I still have room to grow, add a little more bulk, take some more coaching in. They really loved me, talked well about me, said that I was a nice guy, a good character guy. It was good things from all the coaches and everybody else that I talked to. They just want to see what I've got, see what I can do.

DH: After spending a few months working out and being around some of the top competition at your position, what is it you think you need to work on between now and your first days in the NFL?

CI: What I need to improve right now is my technique and my overall strength. You know the guys in the NFL are stronger, bigger, faster and stronger. When you get to the NFL, it's a job. You're there 24 hours a day doing nothing but NFL work. Right now I'm just working on my technique and overall strength so that when I do report to OTAs or somebody's training camp, my strength can match their strength.

DH: Well you were hardly the only Bulldog out there at the combine. I saw Matthew and Knowshon all over ESPN while it was going on. How did the rest of your former teammates handle the experience?

CI: I talked to all the guys -- Knowshon, Asher, Dannell, Jarius Wynn, Brannan Southerland, Matthew. They handled the whole situation as professionals. They were ready to compete with the best and were out there having fun, showing they have life and spirit and it was a great experience being there with all the guys. I felt like I was back in the locker room getting ready to take it out on the field one more time.

DH: Well beyond your fellow Georgia alums, who else impressed you that you saw out there?

CI: Tyson Jackson from LSU. B.J. Raji. A guy that really stood out was the kid from Hawaii (David Veikune). He did like the second most on the bench press. He stood out. There were a lot of guys. Ron Brace and Larry English and Kyle Moore. There were a lot of guys that impressed me. It was a great feeling being out there with the best athletes in the nation.

DH: You're a couple months removed from the season now. Have you had a chance to look back and reflect on last year at all? What are your thoughts on the way 2008 unfolded?

CI: I really don't have any regrets on the season. It is what it is. We lost a lot of people due to injuries throughout the season. But we didn't quit. We didn't give up. We gave it all we had. I gave it all I had. I tried my best to be a leader on and off the field, just being that guy that you can count on at Georgia. I would have loved if we would have won a national championship, but it didn't go that way. We went to the Capital One Bowl game, and won that game and won (10) games on the year. I had a great time at Georgia and I'm going to miss it dearly.

DH: Have you kept in touch with some of your old teammates like Jeff Owens, Kade Weston and Geno Atkins who will be looking to make up for your absence in 2009?

CI: I went to Athens last week before I went to the combine, and I sat and talked to them and told them that it takes hard work to become a professional, so take that last year and just dedicate it so they can be invited to the senior bowl and be invited to the combine, but just have fun doing what you do best, and that's playing football.

DH: So now that the combine is over and done with, where are you expecting to go in the draft?

CI: I heard I was a second-day guy, but you never know what's going to happen. I may become a first-day guy. Anything from third to sixth or seventh round. But I'm going to pray on it, keep God first, and my agent, Pat Dye Jr., he's doing a great job. I'm just waiting on the phone call. I really don't get caught up in the he-said, she-said stuff or that I'm going this place or that place. When it's all over, I'm pretty sure that phone is going to ring and somebody's going to welcome me to a new home and a new team.

Thursday Links (2/26)

Before we get to a truly heroic edition of the links, I had a couple personal notes I wanted to add to today's post...

-- First off, a happy 30th birthday to my buddy Tom, who looks like he's 49, acts like he's 19 and drafts a fantasy football team like he's never seen and NFL game in his life. Happy birthday, buddy.

-- Also, I want to send a big contrats to my former coworker at the Albany Herald, Mr. Scott Chancey, who won an APSE award for a game story he wrote last year, and to my replacement at the Albany Herald, Mr. Paul Dehner, who in addition to his fine UGA coverage this year, penned a fantastic series of stories on former Westover High basketball star Dontonio Wingfield. The series earned Paul an APSE award for project writing.

You can check out all the APSE award winners HERE if you're interested in such things. I was a little miffed that I didn't win one for "Best Live Blog Post Making Fun of Tim Tebow While Using Excessive Circumcision References" until I was informed there was no such category. I'm going to lobby for that addition in 2010 though.

Also, if you followed Georgia prep basketball in the early '90s and remember Dontonio Wingfield's dominance, I highly recommend taking the time to go back and read the stories that earned Paul the award. Here's Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Now, on to today's links...

-- OK, so winning two of four games isn't usually something to celebrate, but Bulldogs fans can be proud of the effort Georgia showed in beating Vandy last night.

-- I'll be very interested to hear the reaction from Bulldogs fans to Terence Moore's latest column on Asher Allen's post-Georgia life. I generally really enjoy Terence's work, but I don't see a single argument here for why leaving school was the right choice for Asher other than the fact that Terence likes him.

-- Orson Charles won't be going to Florida, and he's getting closer to deciding where he will be playing in 2009.

-- Apparently Urban Meyer isn't handling the Orson Charles news too well. It's good to see he's an adult about such things.

-- Of course, the big Charles-related news is that apparently I am now part of the recruiting process. And after reading this, I'm honestly not sure if that's supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing. I'm guessing bad though. (And boy, if I had known this was going to happen, I'd have proof read the story more carefully and not used the word "notion" twice in the first sentence.)

-- The recovery process for Josh Davis isn't going too smoothly.

-- Just when I was starting to wonder if the grueling offseason workouts had taken their toll on Jeff Owens' blog, he has a great post up today listing his top five all-time Georgia players. The stories of Greg Blue and Knowshon Moreno on the practice field are a perfect example of why it's great that Owens has this blog.

-- Speaking of Mr. Owens, he chats with ESPN's Chris Low in this Q&A on Low's blog.

-- And speaking of Mr. Low, he listed five things he loves and five things he hates about the SEC, too. I must say, I couldn't agree more with No. 3 on his "hate" list.

-- If you want to watch the UGA-Tech game at Bobby Dodd next year, you'll need to purchase season tickets.

-- Paul Westerdawg writes that Shandon Anderson's inclusion as an SEC legend makes him feel old. The fact that on Thursday I'm still exhausted from celebrating Fat Tuesday makes me feel old.

-- While you're visiting Georgia Sports Blog, be sure to read this post on offseason arrests that includes some absolutely hilarious quips from Paul. The dig about the speed of Big 10 police not matching that of the SEC was comedy gold.

-- Speaking of off-field problems, Ole Miss dismissed two players from the team for a "violation of team rules." (By the way, this post may contain a record number of "speaking of..." segues.)

-- Bryce Massanari's grand slam helped get the Diamond Dogs off to a 5-0 start to their season.

-- Two days ago, ESPN golf writer Jason Sobel chatted with the guys over at 960 the Ref. Then yesterday, he makes a somewhat inappropriate boner joke in his ESPN blog. I have absolutely no doubt there is a direct correlation between these two events. (And by the way, if we're not going to be allowed to make boner jokes in a live blog, I might as well just turn in my laptop now.)

-- One of the great things about baseball these days is the advancement in statistical analysis being done by a bunch of stat geeks all over the world. From OPS to VORP to a bunch of other numbers I don't remotely understand, only in baseball could math be so interesting. But I think this new theoretical research is perhaps the most groundbreaking work done in recent years. It's the Alyssa Milano Effect.

-- Speaking of baseball, I can't tell you how much I hate when people say the sport needs a salary cap. Look at this story from the NFL and you'll see why a salary cap stinks. Look at the NBA trade deadline and notice that the most valuable commodities are scrubs with expiring contracts and you'll see why the salary cap stinks. Then look at how many different teams have made the playoffs and played in the World Series since 2001 and you'll see that the current system isn't so bad after all.

-- Jerry Seinfeld is coming back to NBC... sort of. I loved this quote from NBC president Ben Silverman from the article: "Jerry called us up and told us he had an idea," Silverman said. "We were laughing the whole time as they went through the concept." So, you see, I get in an accident, and the guy has no insurance, so the judge decrees that he becomes my butler!

-- Similar to the Orson Charles news, I'm not sure if this is good or bad. Again, I suspect it's bad.

-- As a huge fan of "Friday Night Lights," I'm certain this is bad news. Oh, and were you aware that FNL star Kyle Chandler is actually a UGA grad? Bit of trivia for you.

-- And some sad news... the guitarist for Athens-based band Pylon has died.

-- If the Telegraph ever runs a cheeriest headline contest, I'm pretty sure this one would come in dead last.

-- I opened with some personal notes, and I'm going to end on one, too. If you have no interest in pointless stories that have nothing to do with Georgia sports, feel free to move on with your day. If, however, you're excited to waste five minutes of your day reading my snide remarks about a former coworker, then enjoy...

Back before I got into sports writing, I spent two years living in San Diego, where my official job title would probably best be described as "bum." I worked roughly 18 different jobs while I was out there, ranging from accountant to nightclub bouncer, but the only one that I really cared about was a job I landed working in public relations for a minor league hockey team. It was my first opportunity to work in sports, and my first taste of writing sports stories on a deadline. In many ways, it's the job that set me on the path that led me here.

While I learned a ton during my tenure with the hockey team, it was far from all work. I spent large chunks of my days playing baseball trivia games with my boss, making fun of foreign players with funny sounding names, and taking extended lunch breaks at an all-you-can-eat soup and salad place that gave us free dining coupons as part of their sponsorship agreement with the team. It was a sweet gig.

Anyway, in addition to myself and my boss, the public relations department consisted of a small group of unpaid interns. As unpaid interns tend to do, several stopped showing up as our season went along, and we were forced to bring in some new recruits. One of these newbies was a kid by the name of Richard.

In the years I've worked in sports, I've realized that the industry tends to attract arrogant jerks, but before I learned that important life lesson, Richard was my personal posterboy for obnoxious coworkers.

I have since developed a theory that everyone who graduated from the University of Virginia is a complete and total tool -- a little something I call the Richard Rule. Typical of most UVA grads, he was an arrogant jackass, who lacked any sort of basic respect for the people around him because, as a UVA grad, he most certainly was smarter than any of them anyway.

During our brief tenure working together, he managed to anger just about every full-time employee of the team for one reason or another, including telling my boss that he would be happy to proof read any press releases because my boss clearly didn't know how to write. At one point Richard insisted all elipses should include a space before the ... and no space after. (As in, "Richard was a total tool ...And he was also a moron.") A quick perusal of a basic AP Style Guide was not enough to convince him otherwise, given that he did, after all, graduate from UVA, so he clearly knew more than the folks at the Associated Press.

Anyway, I'm not entirely sure what event brought the contemptuous relationship between Richard, my boss and I to a head, but suffice it to say that he was informed his services were no longer needed. It takes a lot to fire a guy who doesn't earn a salary, but that's what it had come to.

So a day or two went by, and my boss and I received an email from Richard. Rather than simply take his termination lying down, he had a counter offer. He challenged us to an intern decathalon, which consisted of various stupid stunts requiring varying degrees of athletic or intellectual prowess. Looking back, the whole thing would have been amusing if he hadn't been such a cocky jackass to begin with.

Anyway, I had completely forgotten about this until yesterday, when my former boss sent me a link to this blog post.

Now, before you read it, there are a few things I need to clarify, as the writer of this blog has not shared the true story:

1.) Despite the implication from this blogger, my former boss was EXACTLY the type of person who valued a "willingness to dream up wacky stunts." Our game night competitions to see how many times we could use the term "bug-a-boo" in one press release should attest to that.

2.) Richard's insistance that he was shunned because he insulted the intelligence of a female intern whom my boss had a crush on is simply untrue. My boss actually had a crush on every female intern we had working for us, so there was absolutely no special treatment given to any one in particular.

3.) If Richard "gets along famously" with everyone else, I can only assume it is because he only associates with other UVA grads. Either that, or people are nice to him because they are under the assumption he is mentally challenged.

4.) While Richard has apparently "toured the country" in the years since this event, my former boss is now working in PR for the Los Angeles Kings and, obviously, I have gone on to reach the pinnacle of sports journalism.

5.) Please also keep in mind Richard's propensity toward correcting my boss's grammar when reading his letter. I suppose the spelling and grammar check in Microsoft Word is rendered useless when you assume you know the English language better than the program does.

Anyway, you may now feel free to enjoy this blast from my past, and while I would certainly never encourage you to leave insulting comments on someone else's blog, I also will not think less of you should you decide on your own to do so.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Football Notes (2/25)

The leadership is better, the focus is sharp and the workouts are as intense as they have ever been. It's a popular offseason refrain every year, but Georgia's players have made a point of repeating the mantra with regularity during the past six weeks.

What sets this offseason apart, however, is that the new and improved mind-set extends beyond the players, linebacker Rennie Curran said. Following a year in which practices were admittedly softer and off-field issues cropped up frequently, Georgia's coaching staff has taken a new approach toward the offseason this year, too.

"All the coaches are definitely behind us wanting to change the mentality of the team," Curran said. "Some of the punishments have become more intense if you don't do it right, and just with that, all the guys have a completely changed mentality and it's trickled down to the young guys all staying focused on and off the field."

Wide receivers coach Tony Ball said the changes started at the top, with an emphasis from head coach Mark Richt on making this offseason as intense as any the Bulldogs have had.

Coaches have taken a more hands-on approach, spending more time overseeing workouts and ensuring players are keeping up with their offseason training. Ball said reminders of the team's big-picture goals are everywhere in the locker room and weight room, offering subtle reminders of last season's disappointments and this year's expectations.

"I think the emphasis on the offseason is certainly more evident," Ball said. "There is a sense of urgency. You can see that. It has been created subtly with some of the things you see around the facility, and Coach Richt has certainly demonstrated an emphasis."

Curran said Richt addressed the team after its bowl game, telling the players he wanted to return to his roots and handle this offseason like he did when he first took over as head coach. Curran said there has been a renewed emphasis on detail and accountability from the coaching staff, and the results are already beginning to show.

"It doesn't matter if it's warm-ups or whatever," Curran said. "We're just making sure we look like a team and function as one."

-- He's a few months behind fellow left tackle Trinton Sturdivant on the rehab program, but Vince Vance said he's taking steps toward returning to action every day.

Vance tore his ACL in October after taking over the left tackle position that opened after Sturdivant went down with a similar injury in the preseason. He has been rehabbing the knee for four months, and he said he's starting to see the fruits of his labor.

"It's going strong," Vance said of the rehab process. "I'm jogging in the pool, light squatting. I'm coming back, slowly but surely."

Of course, thanks to the high number of injuries on the line a year ago, there will be a deep group of lineman with playing experience this season, meaning Vance won't be guaranteed a starting job once he's ready to get back on the field.

While the senior lineman won't be ready to participate in spring practice, Vance said he's confident he'll be able to make up for lost time once his knee is fully healed.

"I know the playbook just as well as anyone else on the offensive line," Vance said, "so that's really going to be on me to see how I come back physically."

-- Tavarres King got just a brief taste of action last season, hauling in two receptions before an ankle injury landed him on the sidelines for the remainder of the season. When he hits the field in 2009, however, he's expecting to have a much bigger impact.

"My goal for myself is to somewhat fill Mohamed (Massaquoi's) shoes," King said. "I don't want to take his place, but I want to show the coaches can be that marquee guy that Mohamed was."

Massaquoi finished with 58 catches and 920 yards a year ago, teaming with A.J. Green to form one of the most dangerous receiving duos in the country. Massaquoi's departure means that plenty of receptions will be there for the taking in 2009, however, and while King hopes to get his share of grabs in his second season, he said the overall depth the Bulldogs will have at wide receiver next season could make it an even more dangerous group than they had last season.

"Success was pretty high last year," King said, "but we've got enough talent in the room to do some great things."

-- Georgia's depth chart at linebacker is far from settled as the team prepares to begin spring practice next month, but Curran's job at Will linebacker appears to be the one certainty in the group.

Last season, Curran led the SEC in tackles and established himself as one of the top linebackers in the conference, but he said he would be open to shifting positions to middle linebacker in 2009 if his coaches were interested.

"I don't see why not," Curran said. "I played Mike in high school, and I know the position pretty well. I feel like I could easily fit in there, and whatever coaches need me to do, that's where I'll play."

-- Green spent the 2008 season burning cornerbacks around the SEC, but he doesn't want anyone to forget he's more than just a wide receiver. Green was a start basketball player in high school, and while he said he's not planning to try out for the Georgia hoops team, he still puts on a show on the court when he gets together with teammates for pick-up games.

"I went to the Ramsay (athletic center) a couple times to shoot around a couple times," Green said. "I've still got it."

Scheduling Notes

I've had a bunch of people ask, so I wanted to pass along a few key dates for the Spring..

-- Georgia's first day of spring practice is March 17, which may put a kink in my St. Patty's Day plans.

-- Georgia's pro day will be March 19, and both Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno will be participating.

-- The annual G-Day game is set for April 11, and will be broadcast live on ESPN.

-- And April 16 is apparently National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day. So you've got that to look forward to.

Wednesday Links (2/25)

Getting right to the links...

-- The Tennessean calls tonight a "must win" game for Vanderbilt, while Georgia's two seniors are just looking for anything to smile about as the season winds down.

-- Chip Towers finds one of the brightest silver linings in the Bulldogs' dismal season in the rapid development of point guard Dustin Ware.

-- Fletcher Page of the Red & Black takes time to look at the impressive career of Terrance Woodbury.

-- ESPN's Chris Low takes a look at the combine numbers for some of the top SEC performers. Man, Brannan Southerland is going to be a steal for some team on the second day.

-- Tim Tebow is talking smack on Georgia already.

-- It's never too early to start making travel plans for the fall, and Georgia Sports Blog gets you primed for your Okie State vacation. I'm thinking of staying in Oklahoma City, and I've already been told finding hotels in Stillwater is next to impossible.

-- Bleacher Report says Jeff Owens could be the X factor for Georgia in 2009.

-- Mike Merola, the captain of Georgia's 1950 football team, died Monday.

-- The AJC looks at the tough job of sports physical therapists, including Georgia's Ron Courson.

-- 960 the Ref has a bunch of podcasts up for your listening pleasure, including hoops coach Pete Herrmann, former basketball coach and current Georgia Sports Hall of Fame inductee Hugh Durham, men's golf coach Chris Haack, and ESPN golf analyst Jason Sobel.

-- Thanks to the World Baseball Classic, the Braves won't face off against Georgia or Georgia Tech this spring.

-- Rivals' Anthony Dasher talks to associate AD Arthur Johnson and learns UGA is still looking to schedule two more home games for 2010. (Subscription required.)

-- The Detroit News talks to Matthew Stafford who said he's excited at the prospect of throwing to Calvin Johnson next year.

-- The Red & Black gets a bit nostalgic with assistant tennis coach Will Glenn.

-- ESPN's Wright Thompson has a great piece up on the checkered history of race relations at Ole Miss.

-- A linebacker prospect from Cal lists Terry Tate: Office Linebacker as his top role model.

-- If you're in the mood for a strange bit of nostalgia, check out this list from Huffington Post of the nine weirdest public service announcements ever aired.

-- Here's some great news: Andy Richter will rejoin Conan O'Brien when Conan takes the helm of "The Tonight Show" in May.

-- And finally, to get you primed for tonight's episode, check out some of the top "Lost" theories from last week.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Big Hitters

I know everyone is pretty excited about the start of baseball season, and rightfully so. Georgia couldn't be off to a much better start after sweeping Youngstown State last weekend, and the Diamond Dogs will be back at work tonight at Foley Field when they host Presbyterian.

I'm sure I'll devote a fair amount of space here over the next few months to the baseball team, but I stopped over to the softball complex today for a few interviews, too, and thought I should pass along a bit of love for the ladies...

-- Georgia's Alisa Goler earned SEC player of the week honors after a monster weekend in the Georgia Softball Classic, hitting .636 with three HRs and 16 RBI.

-- For the season, Goler leads the SEC in average (.615), OBP (.673), hits (24), RBI (36... yes, you read that right), homers (9) and total bases (57). That's in 13 games, folks. Yikes.

--Overall, Georgia is 12-1 this season and ranked 14th in the country. The Lady Dogs only loss came in their opening weekend series to Oregon State, and they have won nine straight since then.

-- Little bit of trivia... Georgia is the youngest team in the country, with just two seniors and no juniors on their roster. Four freshmen start for them.

-- On the year, Georgia has outscored its opponents... wait for it... 133-18.

-- Georgia will be playing in Columbus this weekend in a tournament that will bring 11 ranked teams -- including top-ranked Alabama -- to town. The Dogs open with games against DePaul and UMass on Friday -- both ranked opponents. If you're in the Columbus area, it'll definitely be worth checking them out.

Video Blog: Aron White

I have a story in today's Telegraph about the tight ends' determination to work their way back into the offense this season. In this video, Aron White follows up on those plans and what the tight ends hope to do to regain the confidence of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

Tuesday Links (2/23)

I had been meaning to mention this for a while now, but for some reason it always seems to slip my mind. I mentioned a couple weeks ago that you can befriend me on Facebook, but I should also point out that if I happen to be online, you can feel free to chat. A few of you have been nice enough to pass along some kind words and talk UGA sports every once in a while, and I definitely appreciate the interaction. Anyway, just passing that along in case you happen to catch me online and have a burning question you'd like to discuss.

Now, to today's links...

-- Usually I save the non-football stuff for the end, but this is important info you'll need right away this morning: IHOP is offering a free short stack to all customers today from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. as part of its celebration of National Pancake Day.

-- Pete Fiutak of answers some reader mail, including a question about Mark Richt's competitive fire.

-- The Banner-Herald's Marc Weiszer has a blog post up that follows up on some of the recent discussion of a lack of leadership in the Georgia locker room a year ago. He quite rightly notes several instances in which players touted the "new leadership" a year ago. The bottom line is, players are saying the right things now, but that only matters if they're doing the right things later.

-- Jeff Owens has a Q&A with offensive lineman Clint Boling, who reveals his love for Rafferty's and Eva Longoria.

-- SI's Peter King gives some thoughts on Matthew Stafford, while Total UGA talks to the man himself (subscription required).

-- Stafford may not have completely solidified the No. 1 overall selection, but he had dinner with Lions' brass Thursday and coach Jim Schwartz said the meeting went well.

-- The AJC's Jeff Schultz ranks the Atlanta-area teams 1 through 10, with UGA football finishing behind the Falcons.

-- Georgia's new leadoff man, Johnathan Taylor, is off to a fine start, earning some SEC honors.

-- Georgia sprinter Torrin Lawrence is one fast man .

-- Three Bulldogs are headed into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

-- I decided a long time ago that the only people I would ever complain about my job to were other sports writers. The reason is, anyone who doesn't do this for a living would rightfully think I was crazy to nitpick the details of a job that allows me to watch sports for a living, so I rarely get much pity (nor do I deserve it).

Still, writing about sports is a tricky proposition. It's generally a tough balancing act when dealing with a competitive job, athletes and coaches who tend to have pretty big egos, and fans who occasionally are less than rational about their teams.

I am extremely lucky in that I work with many great reporters, deal with a staff and players at UGA who are genuinely good people and I have a great group of readers who so far have been extremely generous to me in their compliments and diplomatic in their criticisms. (SIDE NOTE: Apologies to Michael A for my failure to provide the appropriate spoiler warning regarding my link about "The Office" yesterday).

Of course, that isn't always the case, and you don't have to be in this business long to have a good "athlete who treated me like crap" story. For a few months early in my career, I was certain Chan Gailey had a personal vendetta against me. So this story from ESPN's Buster Olney (one of my favorite baseball reporters) brought a smile to my face if only because, while it was hardly unfamiliar, it's always good to remember that even the guys who have made the big time have had their low points, too.

Monday, February 23, 2009

UGA in the Community

This was posted over at, but since we've spent probably too much time discussing some not-so-positive things here the last few days, I thought it was a good idea to take a moment to remember that, regardless of records or statistics, there are a bunch of really good people on the Bulldogs' roster, too. Here's video of the staff and families volunteer day at the food bank of Northeast Georgia...

Video Blog: Brandon Boykin

Georgia freshman corner Brandon Boykin discusses his improvements and the battle for the starting job vacated by Asher Allen...

High Hopes for Georgia Golfers

In case you weren't aware, Georgia's men's golf team enters the season ranked No. 1 in the country.

The Telegraph's Daniel Shirley caught up with Russell Henley -- one of the Bulldogs' top players and a Stratford Academy alum -- over the weekend to talk about the season ahead...

Russell Henley and the Georgia golf team open their spring season at the Puerto Rico Shootout starting Friday.

And they will do so with the No. 1 ranking in the Golf World/Nike Coaches' poll. But Henley, the former Stratford standout, isn't worried about that ranking. In fact, he believes the ranking is right on the mark.

"I guess it does put a little pressure on us, but I definitely think we have the best team," said Henley, who is one of 22 players on the watch list for the Hogan Award, which goes to the top amateur player in college golf. "If we all play our best, nobody can beat us. I think that ranking is right because if we all play well, no one can beat us."

The Bulldogs, who won twice during the fall, including the Brickyard Collegiate at the Brickyard at Riverside, certainly have plenty of talent. Adam Mitchell and Hudson Swafford are also on the Hogan watch list.

Georgia likely will face a tough task this week in its opening tournament.

"We always play the best tournaments, so we play against the best teams all the time," Henley said. "It should be a great tournament. There should be a lot of good scores and a lot of good golf, but we're ready for the challenge."

Henley sounds ready for the spring portion of his sophomore season. He was named a second-team All-American as a freshman and won the Georgia Amateur Championship at his home course of Idle Hour Club during the summer. During the fall, he had finishes of 20th, 24th and ninth (Brickyard Collegiate) before winning the final event, the Isleworth Invitational.

"I've really been working hard and putting in a lot of work on my game to get ready," Henley said. "I feel good about the spring. I'm looking forward to it, and I'm ready to get back to playing again."

Monday Links (2/23)

Happy Monday, folks. Hope everyone had an enjoyable weekend. Before we get to today's links, I had a couple things I wanted to clear up from last week's posts.

-- First, I had an article in the Telegraph last week and added a post here with the full interview transcript chatting with Damon Evans about the various bits of bickering going on among SEC football programs this offseason. The story was picked up and linked by a handful of other (bigger) media outlets, which is usually a pretty good thing, but somewhere along the way, I think the message got a bit distorted.

I've had multiple people ask me -- and a fair number criticize me -- about what exactly it was Lane Kiffin said to anger UGA (and Damon Evans) so much. The answer is nothing... well, mostly nothing. In both my article and in the interview (which you can read HERE) I never suggested that Kiffin accused Georgia of cheating, and if you read the interview question, that was not the issue I posed to Evans.

What I said was that Kiffin had been critical of Georgia, as well as other schools. From his comments -- along with some from other coaches as well -- a lot of hype has followed, which has led to rumors of cheating surrounding various programs. Check the message boards or listen to talk radio, and it's hard to get away from.

So, my question to Damon was simple: Have there been any violations at Georgia (simply clearing up the rumors) and what are his feelings about the immense offseason hype (both real and rumored) this year. That's the answer he gave me, and I believe it was both fair and candid. His remarks were not directed at Lane Kiffin, but were rather a general assessment of his program. In fact, you needed to read no further than the headline to the Telegraph story to see that: "Evans stays above the fray in SEC war of words." The folks who seem intent on criticizing both myself and Damon for not doing our homework on exactly what Lane said should probably do their homework a little better on exactly what we said.

-- Secondly, I had a post yesterday (and a story that ran in the Telegraph) regarding the number of players who have rallied behind a concept of change from last season.

My point in posting that was not necessarily to be critical of Matt Stafford or Knowshon Moreno or anyone else from last year's team. Rather, I wanted to present the situation and find out what you guys thought. So far, I think the responses have been excellent and thought provoking.

Looking at what the players this offseason have said -- and said repeatedly -- I think it's hard not to assume that there were real issues in terms of motivation and leadership last year, with several players stating that pretty explicitly. If you read Aron White's comments to Total UGA, it's hard not to see how that relates to some of the stars. Is that fair? I don't know. I'm just saying that seems to be what some of the players think.

I mentioned this in the comments on the post, but even if there were leadership problems with some of Georgia's stars a year ago, I don't think that necessarily means those players didn't care, didn't work hard or didn't have enough heart. There is a good reason why so few stars go on to be great managers or coaches. The mentality of preparing for a game as a star is different than for someone who is not. The challenges are different, and sometimes all that talent can make it difficult to put yourself in the shoes of a guy who doesn't have nearly as much natural ability. So it doesn't mean that Stafford or Knowshon or anyone else weren't trying to be leaders -- just that perhaps their message wasn't what the other players needed to hear.

Paul Westerdawg over at Georgia Sports Blog adds another good point to this discussion: Whether or not you want to blame last year's leaders, a good bit of the responsibility for off-field shortcomings needs to fall to the coaching staff. I think Mark Richt realized this during the season last year, and prior to the bowl game, he routinely commented that he regretted being too soft during practices and promised a change for the bowl. I think much of that is carrying over into this offseason.

Of course, even if the leaders and the coaches do their jobs perfectly, it's still up to the players to buy in and make the right choices. That clearly didn't always happen last year, but while it's only two months into the offseason, you're certainly hearing a uniform message this time around. Whether that can last remains to be seen.

Again, I've enjoyed everyone's thoughts on this so far, so keep it up.

Now, on to some links...

-- While we're discussing Georgia's new work ethic, check out this must-see photo gallery of the Bulldogs working out this offseason from the AJC.

-- Bubba 'N Earl wonder if this could be the break-out year for Caleb King in their latest blog post. I've talked a good bit with Caleb, and he seems both focused on having a great season and humbled by what happened last year. I'm not saying he's going to be Knowshon, but I do like his chances to put up some impressive numbers in '09.

-- Speaking of Knowshon Moreno, his 40 time has become a big question after the combine. First, there questions about just how accurate his time was. Second, the generous time has him in the mid 4.5s, which isn't quite where he was hoping to be, especially after a month of training. Of course, Moreno's competition didn't exactly light things up either.

-- Interesting piece in the AJC over the weekend on former Georgia player Andre Hastings, who now trains dogs for competition. Oddly, I was just talking about this very subject with the Banner-Herald's Roger Clarkson last week because apparently both Sean Bailey and Ramarcus Brown also train dogs. Given what a complete brat my dog is, perhaps I need to hire one of these guys to give her some lessons.

-- Jeff Owens has probably stolen some of his coach's thunder, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that there's a bunch of new material up at

-- After a weekend sweep of Youngstown State, baseball coach Dave Perno chats with 960 the Ref.

-- The Lady Dogs had a nice run going a couple weeks back, but the wheels seem to have come off of late, and they are in danger of missing the tournament for the first time in more than 15 years.

-- It was a good weekend for both Georgia's swimmers and softball team.

-- (Spoiler Warning) -- Don't know how many of you watched "The Wire" on HBO when it was on, but in my humble opinion, it may have been the best show ever to air on television. Season 4 of the show was as groundbreaking as anything I've seen in movies or TV, and it's a shame so few people took the time to watch.

One of the show's best characters, however, will get a shot at a bigger audience soon when Idris Elba, who played Stringer Bell on "The Wire" guest stars for six episodes on "The Office." That should sufficiently keep him from being typecast, I'm guessing. (BTW: Amy Ryan, who guest starred as Holly on "The Office" was also an alum of "The Wire.")

-- And finally, I offer this Onion headline as a Monday morning pick-me-up for my buddy Dave, who has spent a good portion of his life making jokes at Michael Bay's expense.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Culture Shock

I know this has already been discussed quite a bit, but the theme of this offseason for Georgia's football program isn't a whole lot different than the theme of last year's presidential campaign. It's all about change.

I remember watching the Republican National Convention and thinking it was odd and more than a bit awkward when a long list of conservatives lined up to tout John McCain's message of change without actually calling out the failures of George Bush. They acknowledged things needed to be different, but never wanted to implicitly place blame on the previous administration.

A similar demeanor seems to have emerged from this offseason for the Bulldogs. You can't find a player on the roster who will say that Matthew Stafford or Asher Allen or any of Georgia's departed veterans made mistakes last year. They won't tell you that those players cared less or didn't work as hard or weren't as concerned with winning. But what they will tell you is that last year's effort was lacking, last year's leadership was poor and this year things need to change. It doesn't take CNN's 43-person political coverage team to read between the lines there.

If you haven't been following the seemingly ubiquitous message of change coming from the Georgia locker room so far this offseason, Step 1 for you is to read this piece by Total UGA's Brett Jensen. Of all the players I've heard discuss last year's "leaders," I'm not sure anyone gave as damning a comment as tight end Aron White did.

"There's a lot more of a team mentality around right now," (White) said. "We're not focused on he's a star and we've got to go to him. We're more focused on everybody's got to work together and pull their own weight."

The truth is, last year, Georgia had plenty of stars. That's why the Dawgs started the season as the No. 1 team in the country. And really, there was no reason to criticize what those stars did on the field. Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno were exceptional, both playing with about as much heart on game day as you could possibly ask for while putting up impressive numbers behind a patchwork line. Guys like Asher Allen and Dannell Ellerbe had decent enough seasons, too, despite battling significant injuries along the way.

But it wasn't the on-field exploits that were missing last year. It was what happened in the six days leading up to the game. Again, no one has publicly criticized Moreno or Stafford or anyone else, but the simple act of praising this year's change speaks volumes.

I have a story in today's Telegraph that looks at Georgia's new message of change and like Jensen's story on White, the underlying criticisms of last year's team are pretty evident in the words of this year's players. Read it, and decide for yourself.

My story ended up around 1,200 words, which is a bit more than I generally like to put on a newspaper page. But getting it down to that size even took some painful decisions to leave quotes on the cutting room floor, so I wanted to use this space to give you the full breadth of player comments on the subject.

Earlier this week, I posted comments from linebacker Darryl Gamble about 2008's leadership issues, which are well worth a read if you haven't seen them already.

His quotes were simply the starting point, however. Below are quotes from 11 different players, which when added to Gamble and White, make more than a dozen who have spoken up with some degree of candor about last year's shortcomings. Here's what other Bulldogs have had to say this offseason...

Geno Atkins on the team's offseason attitude...
"Everybody's focused. Last season was a disappointment -- well, not really a disappointment, but we had higher expectations. This year we want to start from square one, from winter workouts to spring practice to summer workouts to fall camp."

Atkins on the team's top priorities this year...
"Better leaders, contributing, being more vocal telling young guys what to do, working hard. We're making sure no one's getting in trouble and things like that."

Bruce Figgins on the team's mentality this offseason...
"It's almost like a 180 turn. I sense a lot more focus and a lot more determination from players this year. From the highest to the lowest, from senior to freshman, everybody's coming in to work every day with a good attitude, motivated, pushing each other."

Figgins on what this season's workouts are like...
"There's a lot of energy in the weight room, a lot of energy in mat drills, and a lot of focus in the meeting rooms. It goes to the coaches as well. Coaches are constantly in the weight room, which since I've been here, I hadn't seen a lot of. It's almost like our position coaches are strength coaches as well. They're in there spotting, adding weight, and everybody's going above and beyond. It's a lot better attitude, and it's an attitude that I think if we had last year, we probably could have stayed No. 1."

Marcus Washington on what the team needs to improve...
"Guys doing wrong, you know they're doing wrong, you've got to get them on the right path. Last year we had a lot of off-the-field issues, guys getting arrested, guys getting in trouble, drinking, whatever. All that needs to be eliminated to be successful. I think that really hampered our season a little bit because guys always had these outside influences that made them not focus on the real task at hand, which is winning ballgames."

Washington on the progress being made...

"So far, but it's early in the year. You could say guys haven't really had time to mess up yet, but so far guys have learned and you take guys like Akeem Hebron for example had gotten dismissed for a semester, and now he's back doing things on the right path. With that situation, experience is the best teacher. He had to learn the hard way. Sometimes that's what it takes. I think our guys learned from their mistakes."

Kris Durham on the attitude this year...

"It's been very intense. They're pushing a lot of team first, team everything, just kind of that nobody's going to outwork us this offseason. We're going to be the best conditioned, best strength we can possibly have."

Durham on what the problems were last season...

"We kind of just lost our way for a bit. We got our mind-set back and got ready for the bowl game, and we need to build off that. We've just got to stay focused this year. We can't help what happened in the past."

Bryan Evans on this year's workouts...

"We're wasting no time. I think this might be the hardest we've ever worked coming out of a December into January. Specifically, the tempo is much faster. Strength and conditioning coaches are hands on. They broke the workout groups down to six people in each position so they can focus more on us."

Evans on the team's motivation from last year's losses...
"I feel that the score of 49-10 speaks for itself. Nobody wants to feel that 49-10 again. That's pretty much what everybody is thinking about -- 49-10, every time we get in the weight room. If that doesn't drive you, I don't know what will."

Blair Walsh on the team's goals this offseason...
"We're trying to get some new leadership in here, and people want to get back to the BCS."

Prince Miller on the coaches' attitudes this offseason...
"The coaches are definitely pushing us more, and it's only for the best of the team. They just want us to be one of those elite programs in the country, and 10 wins just isn't good enough anymore. That's what you have going on now. The coaches are really pushing us to move this program forward."

Miller on scheduling...
"The schedule's going to be tough every year, especially playing in the SEC and having a hard non-conference schedule. I think that happened a little too much last year. A lot of people, not just the guys who play, but people in general were looking ahead too much at what might be and what could happen, and that's something we can't get caught up in."

Joe Cox on whether there was a lack of passion last year...
"Maybe at certain times. Now is it something that I feel that if I would have been in it would have been changed? No. But I felt like at times, and really throughout my career, you can see certain games where it just seemed like we were flat. We just needed somebody or something to spark it, and hopefully I can bring the way I like to play, hopefully that can change some things and maybe bring some fire to us."

Zach Mettenberger on what is different this year from last...
"Last year I was around a lot, and the leadership wasn't too great last year. I've been here three weeks and I can already tell that the leadership and the seniors, they want to win a championship again. They want an SEC championship. They want a spot to play for the national title. So far, the leadership has been outstanding in my opinion."

Tony Wilson on the changes the coaching staff has made this offseason...
"That's what they felt like they needed to do to change the program around, and I'm here to do it, so I've got to deal with it. Some of the stuff I don't agree with, but it is what it is. I've got to just take it with a grain of salt."

Wilson on why he doesn't like some of the changes...

"I always believed that an athlete needs rest. That's not to say that the coaches don't know what they're doing but it's just my thought that, if I worked hard in track, for example, if I practice the first two days hard, and I've got a track meet Thursday, I would take Wednesday to rest my body so I can be able to physically and mentally perform. But they're doing what they think is right, and I don't question any of it, but I just go with the flow and go in with a positive mind-set."

Wilson on last year's leadership problems...
"Leadership is a skill. You can't force it on nobody, just like you can't force talent on them. You're either given it or your not. When you become a leader, that's a big step in someone's life. Being a leader is totally different than going out and pulling guys off to the side because they want you to be more vocal. A lot of people aren't used to being like that. Certain people are made for that, certain people might not be. Some people can be vocal, some lead by their actions. Me, in particular, I don't get into nobody's face and say do this or do that because I don't like when people do that to me. You can come in here and pull me to the side and talk to me and say, 'You need to do this,' but if you're up in my face, I'm not going to respect you. I don't respect nobody who gets up in my face. Another example is if he tells you to do one thing, but you see him doing another thing. He's telling you to do it this way, but he's doing something else on the other side of the room, I don't respect that. If I'm going to be a leader, I'm going to be a leader morning, noon and night, on campus or off campus. Leaders, there's something you've got to develop within yourself."

(Note from me: I can't help but read a bit more into this line from Wilson: "If he tells you to do one thing, but you see him doing another thing.He's telling you to do it this way, but he's doing something else onthe other side of the room, I don't respect that." Combine that with some of the quotes from other players, including White in Total UGA's article, about how some guys didn't think they needed to put in as much effort, and I think you start to get a picture of why some of the "leaders" had trouble leading.)

Rennie Curran on the lessons of last season...
"I feel like we learned a lot about ourselves and just the fact that we needed to have more discipline if we wanted to be the best -- to work hard, to always be the best in every drill --- and that's kind of what we've implemented from the very beginning, from the end of last game to now, we're just working hard, everybody being disciplined, working on leadership -- all those things that make a good team great. It's only going to get more intense as we put the pads on and get ready to go. There's a lot of talented guys that are ready to contribute."

Curran on trying to motivate a team that isn't buying in...

"It definitely can get frustrating but that's one thing that you have to realize that things aren't always going to go your way, but you have to be persistent -- especially in the league that we play in and the type of guys we have. You just have to be persistent and hope everybody can get on the same page, but I have no worries about that this year because I feel like we've got a great group of guys that want to do things right and want to buy into the program, and that's going to translate into good things."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Evans: We're Prepared for Tough Economy

In the final part of my interview with Georgia Athletics Director Damon Evans, we discussed the current economic problems facing the country and how they will affect the UGA athletics association.

As a bit of background, I highly recommend the following reading:

-- The Athens Banner-Herald discusses Georgia's strong financial situation.

-- The AJC has a story about the reduced contributions to Georgia's "Hartman Fund" this year.

-- Get the Picture discusses the big differences in financial well being between Georgia and Georgia Tech.

-- USA Today notes the ways in which various schools around the country are trying to cut back.

On to the interview...

Hale: The Athens Banner-Herald had a story earlier this week showing an expected $20 million surplus for the UGA athletics association, but around the country, the economic times are tough. Fans are hurting, schools are cutting back wherever they can. How is Georgia dealing with the financial issues surrounding both the college athletics industry and its fans?

Evans: This is what I would say first and foremost is we are in a pretty good financial situation right now, but I say that knowing that we're not going to probably generate as much revenue in certain areas as we have in the past.

Case in point: the football ticket priority program, revenue will be down, or at least that's the way it looks right now in that particular category. We're feeling some of the economic impact. But what I want fans to know, and the people who have contributed money to us, the reason that we're OK and in a decent position right now is because we've been fiscally prudent in the manner with which we handle the financial affairs of this athletics program. I've always wanted the fans and our supporters to know that we're not going to be irresponsible with regard to how we manage the money within the association.

But the impact from the economy -- yes, we think about how it affects fans. We know that there will be less money potentially coming in. We also want to make sure that we understand what's going on with the university as a whole. That's important to me, to us, that we're mindful of the struggles that the institution has. Case in point, the pledge that we made to the institution, while it's not going to fix all their problems, it was to me the appropriate time to do so, to say that if we can lend some help, here's a small piece to show that we support what's going on out there.

It still remains to be seen what the economic outlook is going to be. I think it's going to be worse next year from what I'm hearing. How that impacts us: You may see some of our costs going up with regard to travel. You may see us with regard to some of the facilities that we were going to do, we may have to delay those to a certain extent. That's the way it's going to hit us. A lot of things are uncertain, but just like everybody else right now, even if you have some money, you're still bracing yourself. You're not readily willing to spend that money right now because you're kind of concerned with what's going to happen. So that's kind of where we are.

DH: Obviously with the revenue the athletics association has generating, you aren't ready to start slashing budgets, but what about the large-scale projects that have been discussed, such as the potential expansion to Butts-Mehre?

DE: We're trying to stay on point with some of them. Butts-Mehre is one that we continue to forge ahead with. There hasn't been a definitive approval of doing that at this point in time, but we're moving along according to plans.

But when you have a big master plan like we had, and you're trying to prioritize those projects and say, OK, these are our top six projects -- well, now instead of being able to do those six, you may only be able to do two. That's what I'm looking at at this point in time.

What it means is that some of those grandiose projects may be delayed. They may be delayed for one because of lack of contributions coming in to help support those particular endeavors. They may be delayed because of the potential financing issues that are out there with regard to what the rates are going to be and how do we get money. And third, they may be delayed just because of the fact that we don't feel like we're in as good of a position as we once were from a financial standpoint to do those.

DH: Many other athletics departments are working hard to cut costs right now. Miami is busing players to in-state games next football season. Georgia Tech is trying to cut budget thanks to dwindling attendance. Are there smaller ways in which UGA is reacting to the economic downturn like that?

DE: I'll say this, and this is not a knock against any other institution in that aspect, but I'll answer that question in two parts. I think we have done a good job over the years, even before the economy broke, in how we spent our money.

I think we've always been very mindful whether it's travel, whether it's equipment or what have you on how we go about doing those things. So for us, it hasn't just started now. I don't think to be in the financial position that we're in right now is being a work in progress. It's being positioning ourselves for times like this when things aren't going good. So for this athletic association and those individuals who work under (executive associate athletic director) Frank Crumley, they've been doing a job of being very mindful of should we cut back here or do this, is this too extravagant or is that too much spending? We've been doing that.

Now, what we will do that we may add on to that -- are we like some of the other institutions? Are there different ways in which we can travel for some things that we were doing a little bit differently? Yeah. We may do some things like that. We're looking at flights, we're looking at things of that nature. But we always have. It's not like we were saying, 'Oh everything's great.' We've always done that. I was telling Frank the other day, I said, 'You know what? We're at a time when everyone's talking about changing the way they do things.' I said, 'We need to change the way that we do things, but not as drastically maybe as some others.' Because I think we've always been doing things in a prudent manner, which has allowed us to be prepared for this tough financial time.