You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch
You’re a nasty, wasty skunk
Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk
The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote:
Stink, stank, stunk!
– Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss
Yeah, it might be a bit cliché’ and predictable to pick that out as the intro to this week’s Mailbag. But by admitting as such, hopefully that absolves me from being cliché’ and predictable. Besides, this will probably be the last Mailbag before Christmas, and when I scanned over my answers to the questions below, I realized it was really the only way to go.
Stink, stank, stunk is also apparently on the minds of many of you who wrote this week. Whether it’s lingering worries from the football team’s regular season, skepticism over recruiting rankings, the performance of the athletics director, and the basketball team’s start, a few people are feeling like seasick crocodiles.
So with that cheery introduction out of the way, on to the mailbag!
The past two or three years many UGA fans were clamoring for a coaching change because “with all this talent” we’ve fallen short in big games or blown winnable ones. Now the narrative for the past 12 months the roster has been a built in excuse for a fairly talented team that went 7-5. Granted there have had misses with recruiting but I don’t think the roster just became sub-par overnight (which seems to be Kirby’s point of view). So the big question is: How much did these upperclassmen truly bought in with Kirby this year or are a lot of them looking forward to their pending graduations and/or NFL early entry?
– Josh in Greater Marietta
Well, to be fair to Smart, I don’t think he’s ever come out and said that about the talent, and I’d keep a couple things in mind: a) He came from Alabama, so pretty much anywhere he went in the SEC would have the same drop-off. B) Almost every first-year coach isn’t overly impressed with the talent they inherited.
So I don’t really fault Smart, but I do fault those in the media or fans who have bought into and propagated that narrative. As I’ve written before, if anybody out there can prove they were saying all this before the season and thus predicting a 7-5 regular season, then more power to them. Most everyone else saw enough talent to have the 9-3/10-2 type season that’s become typical around here. Smart was brought in here to do better than that. The fact the record went down the first year doesn’t automatically mean it won’t get better eventually, as I’ve also written.
Oh, you asked a “big question.” Guess I better address that too: If you talk to the players on the record, they absolutely bought in. Brandon Kublanow goes out of his way to say that Smart is “changing the culture” and will win big here. Specifics are harder to pin down, though I have reported on the fact the team did full lifts on Sundays and Wednesdays during game weeks, evidently an effort at toughening the team up.
As with most of these situations, however, if anybody didn’t buy in, or there was any push-bac from players, that will only leak out later, once those players are gone from the program and free to talk. The stuff last year leaked during the season because it was between coaches, and that was unusual.
Hey Seth: Not trying to be a downer, but how do we know that this recruiting class is actually as good as advertised? We have had plenty of big-time recruits in the past, but it seems like most of these players either failed to live up to their high rankings or were only average at best. Is there something different about this class that screams success?
– Connor England
There isn’t a responsible recruiting analyst or beat writer in the world who will tell you that a great recruiting class means championship rings are on the way. What it does mean is you’ve improved your chances and decreased your margin for error. Some of these five- and four-star recruits aren’t going to live up to expectations, but some will, and the more you collect the better your talent base is going to be. Then it’s just a matter of coaching and developing … and that’s the next test for this coaching staff.
The other thing with recruiting success is you’ve got to do it year after year, like Alabama has. Georgia had the nation’s fifth-ranked class in 2015, and Tennessee was fourth. Three years ago Texas A&M was fifth nationally. But when I scrolled through the 247Sports database team rankings over the past few years, the teams that kept appearing in the top five were Alabama and Ohio State. Look what they’re doing now.
Georgia’s team rankings over starting in 2016 and going backwards: 8th, 5th, 8th, 12th, 8th. Pretty good, but not good enough in the SEC, especially when you have trouble retaining all that talent. That’s why this one class itself won’t turn it around for Smart: The test is retaining the talent, developing it, and recruiting consistently well.
Side note: Did you now that the same guy who sings “The Grinch” also did the voice of “Tony the Tiger”? Did that blow your mind? I hope so. I researched this and it must be true because it’s on Wikipedia: Many people think Boris Karloff sung it, because he is the narrator and the voice of the Grinch, but Karloff couldn’t sing, so they brought in Thurl Ravenscroft, and the rest is history. But anyway …
In your opinion, do you expect Georgia’s offense to be much improved next season, or about the same? Is it really a personnel issue and it can be fixed in the off season, or are we seeing that Chaney was not the answer we were looking for to lead the offense?
– Cohen Moore
Much improved? I wouldn’t say it’s not possible, but I wouldn’t predict it right now. The offensive line, as much as it has struggled, has to replace three seniors. Nick Chubb almost certainly will move on, and Sony Michel may too. The receivers could be better, with the influx of bigger and more talented freshmen. But they’re still going to be freshmen. That position may be more dependent on how much improvement comes from guys like Javon Wims, Riley Ridley and Tyler Simmons.
Jacob Eason in Year 2 should be much better. But he’ll need good receivers, good protection, a good running game, and good play-calling. Will he get all that?
The crystal ball says: “Unclear.”
I know that it has only been one season under Kirby Smart, a disappointing 7-5, but my question is centered around Greg McGarity as the Athletic Director. He has been at the helm since 2010, and I personally have not seen any substance of success due to him. He is about to make another volleyball hire, Scott Stricklin is now entering year 4 of a disastrous tenure as baseball coach. It took former defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt calling him out in 2014 during the week of the Charleston Southern game to get the ball rolling on a indoor practice facility, as well as taking multiple weeks to resolve the Todd Gurley autograph situation. Then he avoided every question at the Richt farewell Conference and reports are he only interviewed Kirby, how do you only interview one guy for a SEC Football Head Coaching Job? Then to this year, he botched the G-Day Concert, Ludacris and the condoms, followed by him backing the Open Records Request of 90 days now….(As a journalist I know that is frustrating) So what would it take for a change at Athletic Director to be made? Boosters like the Richt situation, an affair like Damon Evans, or just not renewing his contract which I believe ends in 2017? Thanks for your work covering Georgia.
A few quibbles: I wouldn’t call Stricklin “disasatrous” thus far, he just hasn’t improved the program on the field yet. You could argue that the Gurley situation was a success, given he could have been suspended for the rest of the season. And the decision to only interview Smart was an institutional one. Left to his own devices, honestly I’m not sure what McGarity would have done.
As for the rest, it’s fair to say you’re not alone in your criticisms of McGarity. That goes for fans as well as boosters with at least some influence. Normally, however, a forced change at athletics director results from one of the following: a) terrible financial mismanagement, b) one or more botched major coaching hires, c) scandal, whether it be NCAA-related, academics, or the Baylor variety. So far there definitely hasn’t been A or C. And B will take a few years to figure out.
None of this is to say a change couldn’t happen eventually. My suspicion is that the results this football season, while they haven’t put Smart on any hot seat, have made some people take a closer examination of McGarity’s record.
Side note No. 2: Why are certain songs associated with Christmas for no apparent reason? I’m thinking specifically of “My Favorite Things,” Pachebel’s Canon, and anything burped out by Jim Brickman. This is like when they made “Cat In The Hat” with Mike Myers and tried to make it a Christmas movie. What? Why? But anyway …
What is Brice Ramsey’s status in regards to his degree and will he be able to take advantage of the graduate transfer rule.
– Tom Jackson
As of the last time it was asked, Ramsey was on track to be a graduate next year. The question is whether he’ll take advantage of the ability to transfer and play right away.
Everything I’ve heard and observed about Ramsey is that he likes Athens, he enjoys being on the team, and he’s not compelled to leave. The coaches could also remind him that next year he would be one injury to Eason away from being the starting quarterback. That doesn’t mean he won’t change his mind, or have his mind changed for him, whether it’s people pointing out that Jake Fromm will compete for the backup job immediately, or someone at a smaller school promising the starting job.
The thing is, Ramsey is blocked from starting next year at both quarterback and punter. But he’s also seemingly happy here. Tough call.
Any update on the indoor practice facility? Have any recruits been inside? What about the locker room and recruit hosting facility project? Any update on the timeline for that project?
– Dustin McNew
I had a brief post about this last week. Since then, I’ve walked by it a few more times, and it looks at least from the outside that it’s well on target to be opened in January. They still haven’t ruled out using it for bowl practice. (But they haven’t ruled it in, either.) I don’t know whether they’ve taken recruits inside during weekend visits, but things seem far enough along that I’m sure they have. The turf is down, and when I drove by the other night the lights were on.
The Sanford Stadium locker room and recruiting room project are due to be discussed further at the February meeting of the UGA athletic board. They ordered a design study at the last one. Whether they’re far enough along to give final approval in February, we shall see. This was something – moving it to Dawg Walk side of the stadium, and putting a recruiting room there – that Mark Richt wanted for awhile, but didn’t really go public on until some muckracking reporter, who had heard it was what Richt wanted, asked him about it, and even then Richt only reluctantly grinned and kept his answer short. (Much like with the indoor facility, Richt didn’t like to rock the boat with his bosses. Though I’ve since heard that Richt knew full well what Pruitt was about to do when he went to talk to the media that night.)
Side note No. 3: OK, a totally non-Christmas note, and I think I may have written about this a few years ago, but it’s important and should be mentioned again. If you’re looking for the cheesiest, least self-aware video of the 1980s, go to YouTube and find “Baby I Love Your Way” by Will to Power. Just trust me on this. And if you don’t believe me at first, stick around and watch for the motorcycle. Again, trust me.
I’m getting old enough that I don’t yell at the TV much anymore, but when I do, it’s invariably when we try to tackle someone high. I can’t reconcile the fact that Alabama consistently tackles low, eliminating yards after contact, while we keep right on hitting guys around the shoulders and getting dragged another 3-10 yards. Is this a result of players ignoring the coaches, or do Smart and Tucker teach this tackle high method?
– Brian Strickland
If you’re interested in the opinion of this reporter, whose renowned football career ended after high school, and who even then was only a tight end, then feel free to e-mail me. Otherwise, I thought I’d go to someone (whose name I can’t share) but who played defense and watches Georgia’s program closely:
“I would say that proper technique, which certainly includes tackling low, but more importantly, wrapping up, is the real problem. Kids are not being taught proper technique in the formative years the way they used to be. Usually through the high school level, the kids who go on to play college ball are simply bigger, stronger, better athletes than those they’re on the field with and poor technique doesn’t begin to show until a game at the collegiate level. You can ‘practice’ form tackling and they do, but muscle memory and instincts take over during the speed of the game and that’s when it shows. It takes a very long time to retrain your muscles and reflexes.
“Yes, poor tackling is a disease and it has spread all over the country. The difference at Alabama is their defense is almost never out of position and they’re almost always gang tackling.”
I read your article about yet another slow start for the men’s basketball team. What really irked me was Fox’s comment that he “wasn’t comfortable” putting Tyree Crump in the game. Crump was a consensus top 100 recruit, and the game was at home. Sam Hauser, a comparable recruit, was playing for Marquette in his first true road game. He played 30 minutes, went 7-10 from the field, hit 4 threes, and didn’t turn the ball over once. Can you please explain (or have Mark Fox explain) why it’s so difficult for him to get his freshmen ready to play when other coaches are doing it successfully all over the country? The annual slow starts are killing our tournament hopes every year, and I can’t imagine recruits watching Fox’s deployment of his young players and wanting to play in Athens.
– Stephen Johns, Johns Creek
Frankly, I can’t disagree with anything you said. It’s one thing to be reluctant to play Crump because of his defense in a normal game, but it wasn’t like anybody else’s defense was doing any good. Georgia needed somebody out there who could answer Marquette’s shots.
That’s the thing about this slow start for this year’s team: Not only should it not be happening with the leadership it had coming back, they’re not losing because of the play of younger players. If Crump, Harris and Diatta were getting a lot of minutes but also making mistakes, there would at least be the comfort that they’ll iron out the kinks as the season goes on. But the new players aren’t getting that much experience yet, despite the players ahead of them not quite lighting it up themselves.
My question is basketball related. Should we, as Georgia basketball fans, be content with where our program is today, given that we have little to no history of success, or should we be asking for more? Fox has stabilized this program and given us a consistent product on the court, but is he the man to take us to the next level, i.e. making the tournament yearly?
– Sam, Atlanta
There were several more questions along this line with basketball. Not surprising given the disappointment of another slow start, and I get that. It does get old after awhile, all the early-season struggles, the reluctance to play younger players, the confusing substitution patterns. (Fox taking a player out after they make a nice play or score a few baskets is really nothing new. Riding the hot hand isn’t in his playbook.)
It’s way too early to be getting into hot seat talk. This isn’t football where a few losses cement your season. This team still has the talent at the top and the depth to win a lot of games this year, and when you just watch the team warm up you realize it should be the best team Fox has had at Georgia. And for all the criticisms, he’s still considered a very good coach by his peers, and in the past few years recruiting has improved. The program is on sound footing, it’s just a matter of breaking through.
We’ll see if this team reaches its potential. And by that I don’t mean just doing well in SEC play again. Anything less than an NCAA bid this year would have to be considered a major disappointment. To that end, the Bulldogs aren’t going in the right direction right now.
So Seth, when are you going to write a book describing all the sordid details of what you have seen throughout your life covering sports? I’m particularly interested in any stories about Albany, Georgia. Did you ever have to visit the really scary parts of town, or did you leave that to Hale and Estes? Ever party at the “House of Jazz?” Believe it or not, it has actually gotten worse down here. A real tough living these days. Please give me a happy story about “Albeny.”
Oh, if I ever wrote a book about my life and times, Albany would get prominent mention. Those were three interesting years – but good ones. Made some good, lifelong friends, including Gentry, and had some nights and events I will never tell my kids about. But three years was enough, and my departure allowed my tyrannical sports editor Daniel Shirley to upgrade to David Hale. (The truth is my best memories may be just hanging around the office with Daniel, Gentry and others.)
Since this is a Georgia mailbag, if you want a happy story, I’ll tell this one: When Thomas Davis, who was from somewhat-nearby Shellman, had left the Bulldogs and was in the NFL draft, he held a draft day barbecue party outside, and brought in a couple large-screen televisions. I’m pretty sure the entire town was there. When the draft got through the first few picks, Davis sat with his mother in the front row, a phone on each knee, occasionally answering it and then getting off as quickly as he could.
Before the 14th pick, Davis again answered the phone, but this time he stayed on it longer than a few seconds. I noticed that Davis’ left leg was shaking. His mother had her arm around him, and Davis just kept nodding into the phone, his leg shaking, and then he leaned over, put his hands on his head, and it looked like he was trying to keep people from seeing that he was crying.
A short time later, everyone else there saw and heard the announcement that the Panthers had selected Davis.
It was a tender moment, and I’ve always remembered it, and used it to remind myself that these players and coaches aren’t just pieces on a chessboard. These are real people, with emotions just like us, and to try to keep that in mind as I wrote about them. Sometimes you have to be harsh, but always be fair.
Hey, we couldn’t go all Grinch this time. Happy holidays everyone!