ATHENS – There will come a time when Kirby Smart will be presented with a tough decision, one which will establish how he handles disciplinary matters as Georgia’s head coach, and send a message to his team and its fan base.
That moment hasn’t come yet. But it’s approaching.
So far Smart has had to dismiss two players, but one was basically out of his hands, and the other was a no-brainer:
When Chauncey Rivers was arrested a third time on a marijuana charge last month, that triggered an automatic revocation of his scholarship. Then on Wednesday you had Chad Clay, who had a felony charge hanging over his head, and yet still found a way to get arrested. Getting the boot there was a fairly easy call.
The harder calls, it seems, are coming soon. And when he does make those calls, Smart may find himself at the point Mark Richt once arrived at.
This recent spate of player arrests – six in a little more than four months – appears to be the most in this short a span that Georgia has had in a long time. It’s worst than the most comparable run during the Richt era – though that short run turned into a longer run. And it led to Richt changing his approach.
Back in 2010, between March 7 and April 27, Georgia had four players arrested in separate incidents. That would have been bad enough, but then it didn’t stop.
Three more players were arrested in June and July, making it a total of seven between March 7 and July 10. Then four more players were arrested in August, September and October.
In all, between Feb. 2007 and October of 2010, there were 35 known arrests of Georgia football players. All of them were misdemeanors, 16 involved alcohol, and eight involved a suspended license. It was the worst stretch of off-field behavior under Richt.
That final arrest in that unfortunate run belonged to Caleb King, and it was fairly minor: A bench warrant issued as the result of failure to appear on a speeding charge. But Richt, realizing that a message (finally and belatedly) had to be sent, issued a two-game suspension for King.
It didn’t necessarily deter King, who sadly continued to run into trouble after he left Georgia following that season. But the steady stream of arrests in Richt’s program slowed down; they didn’t go away, but they became more of a rarity. Efforts at changing the culture of the locker room also helped. Georgia, perhaps as a result, won consecutive SEC East titles in 2011 and 2012.
This isn’t to say that Smart now finds himself with another program in dire need of change. But six player arrests since March 20, a span of four months and two days, is a lot. And while two players who accounted for a total of four of those arrests are now gone from the team, the discipline for the other three remains to be determined.
In the case of Julian Rochester, arrested with Clay in the BB gun shooting incident, it should depend heavily on the legal process. He shouldn’t play as long as a felony still hangs over his head, but if it gets knocked down or plead down, a relatively light punishment is understandable.
The same, under normal circumstances, would apply to Juwuan Briscoe (driving without a license) and Jonathan Ledbetter (whose alcohol-related charges have been dismissed). In past cases, Georgia athletes have not been suspended for Briscoe’s offense, and in the eyes of the law Ledbetter is cleared.
But what if Smart needs to send a larger statement? That may be a point the new coach needs to make.